Field Surveys Show Massive Harvest Losses in Coastal Bangladesh

Action Against Hunger’s surveys show harvest losses at 95% and widespread threats to livelihoods

With Cyclone Sidr’s devastating human toll continuing to climb past 5,000 (with more than 3 million people affected), Action Against Hunger’s field teams have just announced more disquieting news: initial field surveys suggest upwards of 95% of all harvests were lost in the coastal regions of Bangladesh. Beyond the cyclone’s immediate devastation, the near total destruction of once productive lands exacerbates the crisis by threatening future self-sufficiency in the region.

Action Against Hunger’s survey teams took stock of these losses while carrying out needs assessments over several days across affected areas. These surveys targeted a range of households among numerous villages and were mostly accessed by boat due to conditions on the ground.

Agricultural Lands Sustain Lasting Damages

While intense winds have caused most of the damage, the flash floods that accompany cyclones have also destroyed villages and endangered agricultural fields with lasting damages. Beyond destroying crops, these floods have accelerated surface erosion—in some cases entire topographies have been radically altered—and exposed fields to dangerous salinity levels. Hundreds of thousands of trees were felled during the cyclone, rendering roads unusable and many regions inaccessible, littering fields with scattered debris and preventing a quick resumption of agricultural activities.

Farmers Were Poised to Replant… Only to Lose their Harvests Again

Cyclone Sidr represents a true catastrophe for Bangladeshis, in both the immediate and long-term, as 70% of the population is subsistence farmers. Following the disastrous floods of August 2007, many farmers were already in debt from having to purchase new inputs to restart agricultural production. After waiting for stagnant waters to recede after these floods, farmers had just begun to replant… and once again their harvests have been destroyed, this time by Sidr. These farmers will have to borrow again just to get by until the harvests of March, and again when they must purchase new seeds.

Another 20% of the affected rely on fishing for their livelihoods. The cyclone has destroyed or damaged a great number of boats threatening their prospects for self-sufficiency as well.

Reestablishing Access to Drinking Water, Decontaminating Wells

Action Against Hunger’s survey teams have identified water issues as an area of immediate concern. Resources must be mobilized to decontaminate wells choked with sea water and debris, restore water points and community access to drinking water, and reconstruct water and sanitation infrastructure.

Starting from Zero Once Again

Beyond the considerable material losses, many villagers interviewed by Action Against Hunger’s survey teams were coping with the heavy psychological consequences of such a catastrophe: for some this was the third time they lost everything and their resolve to rebuild seems to have weakened. The cumulative impact of the floods from August and the cyclone risk imposing additional hardships on communities already living under precarious conditions—some 40% earn less than $1.00 a day.

Action Against Hunger’s field teams worked directly with the affected populations, surveying and documenting their needs in their own words. Beyond prioritizing renewed agricultural production, immediate nutritional assistance is needed as is support for the reconstruction of houses and shelters.

Action Against Hunger’s Post-Survey Response

Based on the initial results of our field surveys, Action Against Hunger has begun mounting a comprehensive emergency response targeting communities with little access to food, no potable water or proper sanitation, and whose needs for shelter and emergency non-food items are most urgent—e.g., distributions of nutritional products, clean water, hygiene and cooking kits. The post-emergency phase of our work will target rehabilitating basic infrastructure and restoring self-sufficiency.

As international assistance begins to arrive in post-emergency Bangladesh, it will likely reach the urban centers first while rural populations will remain isolated because they are difficult to access. Action Against Hunger is committed to concentrating its humanitarian assistance in these isolated regions and among these isolated communities where needs are even more urgent.