Cablegate: Interagency Assessment West Team Report - Cyclone Sidr

DE RUEHKA #0219/01 0491108
P 181108Z FEB 08





E.O.12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Interagency Assessment West Team Report - Cyclone Sidr

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Over the last three weeks, two U.S. Interagency
Assessment Teams (IATs) surveyed five sub-districts (upazilas) in
southern Bangladesh, which were severely hit by Cyclone Sidr. This
report is from the team that surveyed the Morrelganj and Sarankhola
sub-districts. Through meetings with local government officials,
NGOs, civil society leaders, villagers, and city dwellers, the team
gathered a thorough assessment of the situation. Almost
universally, people praised the relief efforts of the Caretaker
Government, the Bangladesh military, NGOs and the United States
military. Equally universally, people questioned when
reconstruction efforts would begin. In this already poor region of
Bangladesh, people now live under polyurethane sheets, secondary
school children study in the open air, and worshipers pray in
devastated mosques and temples. Local leaders worry about a food
crisis due to Sidr's catastrophic impact on agriculture (70-90% of
the rice crop was lost) and aquaculture (most shrimp farms were
wiped out). END SUMMARY.

Interagency Assessment Team Approach

2. (SBU) The two assessment teams consisted of U.S. Embassy Dhaka
Foreign Service Officers (both State and USAID) DoD Civil Affairs
officers, DoD technical experts, and U.S. Embassy Dhaka Locally
Engaged Staff (LES). For 20 days, these teams traveled throughout
their assigned sub-districts and documented the impact of Cyclone
Sidr on communities and assessed relief and reconstruction
activities. The teams gathered exact GPS coordinates of important
civic locations (e.g., educational and religious institutions,
medical facilities, and local government offices), which will assist
in future USG efforts in these regions. The teams also gathered
information about local government leaders and other organizations
involved in the rebuilding and recovery after the cyclone. Finally,
using DoD funds, the teams completed a number of small humanitarian
assistance projects in affected communities. (NOTE: Cables
summarizing the IAT East team's experiences and summarizing the
overall effort will be delivered SEPTEL. END NOTE.)

IAT West Findings - Relief Efforts To Date

3. (SBU) The people met by the team almost universally indicated
they were satisfied with relief efforts immediately following
Cyclone Sidr, which made landfall on November 15. People felt that
the Caretaker Government, Bangladesh military, NGOs, and the U.S.
military played positive roles in providing critical, life-saving
relief. In addition, the fact that there were no widespread health
epidemics reflects both the speed and the quality of the relief and
the education provided to the population before the cyclone on good
sanitary practices and habits.

4. (SBU) With respect to the cyclone's devastating impact on
agriculture and aquaculture, the team witnessed NGOs and other
organizations providing food supplies, and local markets were well
stocked. Many people complained to our team members of the high
price of basic commodities. Several local leaders warned that
existing food supplies are dwindling due to crop loss, and they said
they thought a food crisis could occur in the next month or two as
the existing supplies are consumed. Many areas of the assessed
sub-districts only produce one rice crop per year, which is not
harvested until the end of October or November. As a result,
locally-produced rice will not be available to cyclone victims for
at least eight months.

5. (SBU) The cyclone had a dramatic effect on potable water in the
region. Significant work has been done by NGOs to treat ponds that
were contaminated by salt water and other debris. However, the team
also saw numerous broken tube wells and pond sand filters. There
were also many locations where people did not have access to potable
water within a 1-2 kilometer radius. It appears that access to
potable water was an issue prior to Cyclone Sidr, and this access
has been exacerbated further by the cyclone.

6. (SBU) The Government of Bangladesh (GOB) is attempting to address

DHAKA 00000219 002 OF 004

the housing crisis by providing the following relief to people:
5,000 taka ($73.50) for fully damaged homes and 1,000 taka ($14.70)
for partially damaged homes. The local governments (Union Councils)
provide a list of impacted people to the GOB, and then the
Bangladesh military confirms the information through door-to-door
surveys. Upon completion of these surveys, payments are provided to
the people. Our team observed the military distributing some of
these payments. These payments, however, do not cover the costs of
rebuilding a home, much less a livelihood. One team saw a family
that chose to use the 5,000 taka to rebuild one of its two lost
chicken coops instead of rebuilding its home; in the meantime, the
family continues to live in a tent on its property. One thousand
taka will not even buy a family a bundle of tin to rebuild a roof.
A bundle of tin typically costs between 2,500 and 4,000 taka.

7. (SBU) Cyclone Sidr also inflicted great damage to many of the
regions secondary schools and colleges. The primary schools
incurred less damage because they tended to be concrete structures
with concrete roofs. Secondary schools and madrassas, however, were
terribly damaged by the powerful winds, falling trees, or 8 foot
high waves that overflowed embankments and flooded the countryside.
The GOB is providing the following relief to secondary schools and
madrassas: if a school is fully damaged, it receives 250,000 taka
($3,623); if it is partially damaged, the school receives 50,000
taka ($735). The determination of the damage to the school appears
to be in the hands of the government of the sub-district, and very
few schools received the larger sum. Interestingly, one school
received the full amount when the school had only been partially
damaged, which raised questions about possible corruption. The team
also heard about a "tax" on these payments which reduced the final
distribution and also raised corruption concerns. Regardless, the
amounts provided to the schools are rarely sufficient for these
schools to rebuild. On one of our humanitarian assistance projects,
we provided 55,000 taka and that only paid for the tin for the roof
on one of the school's two demolished buildings; the school provided
free labor to install the new roofing materials. Most school
administrators reported estimated rebuilding costs in the hundreds
of thousands of taka.

8. (SBU) To address the religious needs of the people, there have
been no significant relief efforts to date. Mosques and other
places of worship have placed signs throughout the area requesting
funds to rebuild. The leaders of these institutions are appealing
to members of the community to assist. In some cases, these leaders
have been successful, but in many cases, all that remains of the
places of worship are the clay foundations on which the buildings
rested when the storm hit.

IAT West Findings - Current Reconstruction Efforts

9. (SBU) While people universally appear satisfied with the relief
they received after this catastrophic storm, they also expressed
disappointment that large-scale reconstruction has not started. A
prevailing opinion among local elected officials and civil servants
in the area is that relief efforts need to stop and reconstruction
needs to occur. Repeatedly the team heard from community and
government leaders that people are becoming dependent on handouts
and no longer looking for work to survive. Leaders consistently
praised programs like cash-for-work and food-for-work which reward
work and also re-build much-needed infrastructure, such as houses,
roads and embankments. The reconstruction needs are vast.

10. (SBU) While the GOB provided funds to people to rebuild their
homes, the government's representatives acknowledged that these
funds would not cover the entire rebuilding costs. As a result,
thousands of Bangladeshis now sleep under crude roofs and/or
polyurethane sheets. In contrast, our team members slept in
multiple layers of clothing and under two blankets just to stay warm
during the winter evenings. This precarious housing situation was
exacerbated by two days of cold rain that unexpectedly hit the
region and served as a reminder that monsoon season is only three
months away. While local leaders were aware of some commitments to
rebuild homes, our team did not see any evidence of large-scale

DHAKA 00000219 003 OF 004

construction. The team heard of a Bangladeshi government initiative
to try to enforce more stringent housing requirements for any new
houses. While these requirements should ensure more solid
structures, they may also result in fewer houses due to increased
costs and longer construction timeframes. In addition, local
leaders do not know when the government will give final approval to
the designs of these homes.

11. (SBU) The reconstruction of infrastructure appears to be very
slow. The only projects witnessed by the team were limited
food-for-work and cash-for-work initiatives that focused on
rebuilding roads. Nevertheless, there remain numerous roads where
team members had to scramble up, down, and around on foot to
continue their surveys. During the upcoming monsoon season, many of
these roads will be impassable to motor vehicle traffic. In
addition, in one of the world's largest river deltas, many small but
important bridges were wiped out by the storm, thereby impacting the
local population's ability to travel. There are also important
sluice gates that have been badly damaged. In some cases, these
sluice gates were built to prevent salt water from entering
agricultural land and destroying the crops.

12. (SBU) The reconstruction of the local economy also appears to be
very slow. Many people lost their entire livelihoods (whether these
were chicken coops, fishing boats, or rice crops), so they do not
have any real collateral and/or income with which to start to
rebuild. People called for access to cheap credit so that the small
businesses could rebuild. In the past, villagers could turn to
others in the community for loans. Now, however, since practically
everyone was impoverished by the cyclone, everyone is scrambling to
rebuild and this important source of capital is no longer available.
The loan amounts requested for these small business people ranged
from 100,000 taka to 300,000 taka, which is higher than what is
typically offered by the micro-credit organizations. In one area,
the local union chairman told team members that his community is
ready to restart shrimp farming, an activity that brings in revenue
of 500,000 taka for a 200,000 taka investment in only three months.
(NOTE: Aquaculture is Bangladesh's second largest export by value.
In the last fiscal year, the country exported approximately USD 500
million in aquaculture products. END NOTE.) Unfortunately for this
community there is no organization or group willing to provide the
start-up funds. (NOTE: Within 30 days, USAID will use reprogrammed
resources to initiate an aquaculture and shrimp program to help
rebuild livelihoods throughout the Sidr-affected areas. These
reprogrammed resources will only meet a fraction of the need. END

IAT West Team Recommendations

13. (SBU) The reconstruction needs for these regions are significant
and require quick to immediate attention. Within the next 60 days,
food, cash-for-work programs and infrastructure repair are needed.
If food supplies are rapidly diminishing in the area, then
preparations to deliver food to the region should begin soon. In
addition, cash-for-work infrastructure projects would give a boost
to the local economy, help rebuild the region, and provide income
for people to both purchase food and restart their lives. From an
infrastructure perspective, particular care should be given to the
sluice gates and/or embankments that prevent the contamination of
crop fields; another lost crop would further debilitate a recovering
economy and people. In addition, the region's need for potable
water is real, and any projects designed to build ponds or sink tube
wells would bring work and water to the region.

14. (SBU) In the next 60-180 days, the region needs to see a large
scale effort to rebuild homes and community structures. Monsoon
season arrives in May, and many people continue to live in makeshift
accommodations. In addition, outside of the primary schools, many
of the educational institutions are in shambles. In many of the
secondary schools and madrassas the students study in the open air,
which won't be possible during the monsoon season. Places of
worship also have received little to no support from the government,
and they appear to rely solely on private funding to rebuild,

DHAKA 00000219 004 OF 004

whether from the community or from other NGOs. Finally, more
infrastructure projects should continue until the monsoon season to
rebuild the roads, bridges, and levies that allow people and
commerce to move freely.

15. (SBU) In the long term, large-scale infrastructure projects
could truly revitalize the region, provide the foundation for real
growth, and prevent future disasters like Cyclone Sidr from
happening again. For example, an increase of five feet in the
embankment in the South Khali sub-district in Sarankhola would have
held back the devastating wave that washed away buildings and
drowned precious livestock. Areas in these regions did not have
electricity before Cyclone Sidr; efforts focused on bringing
electricity to those people would improve lives and allow for more
economic activity in the region. Several areas that we visited are
unreachable by car, and our team had to travel by foot, motorcycle,
and/or trawler to reach them. Large-scale road projects would allow
the people in these communities to travel further to deliver
products and find work. In addition, the continued building of
multi-purpose cyclone shelters in these areas would serve two
important needs: 1) an increase in solid concrete community
structures that can serve as schools, religious institutions, or
government buildings, and 2) a location to where people can flee
if/when a similar catastrophic storm comes to this area of
Bangladesh again. Finally, the people in the region are resilient,
improving their access to cheap capital would allow them to rebuild
their businesses or start new businesses.


16. (SBU) Over the last 20 days, the U.S. Government has done an
intensive survey of these heavily impacted regions. The IAT West
team witnessed first-hand a region that received adequate relief,
but is only now starting to rebuild and without a great deal of
visible outside assistance (in particular in the Morrelganj
upazila). There are immediate, short-term, and long-term needs in
the region that should be addressed. A large-scale commitment by
the U.S. Government would bring much needed assistance to this


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