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Volunteers save lives in Cyclone Roanu

On 21 May 2016, Cyclone Roanu’s heavy rains and high winds caused floods and landslides in Bangladesh. Roads, fields and houses were under water.

Tragically, 27 people died, over 80,000 homes were damaged and up to half a million people were affected.

But it could have been so much worse. In 2007 Cyclone Sidr took over 3,300 lives and a cyclone in 1991 killed more than 135,000 people.

The Red Cross has helped to keep people safe in 57 coastal communities since 2012. People learn to prepare for, deal with and recover from cyclones and other disasters.

After participating in the project for several years, nobody in any of the project communities was killed in Cyclone Roanu.

Community teams act immediately

Key to the project’s effectiveness are the community disaster response teams. These were established by the Red Cross in the 27 original project communities, with 324 members across the area.

Using sirens, megaphones, flags, whistles and other means, each team was responsible for warning people in their area as soon as they knew the cyclone was coming.

People then left their homes for cyclone shelters or well-built public buildings. Some even brought their farm animals with them to protect their families’ livelihoods.

Project volunteers had practised within their communities many times before the cyclone so everyone knew what to do.

One volunteer shared: “Now, people in my community are more alert to disaster warning signals than before. This has come through the project’s awareness-raising activities like mock drills.”

In many cases the volunteers supported people who had difficulty evacuating their homes, such as older people, children and widows.

Thanks to their efforts and work by the government, a recent study of the project found that nearly 99 per cent of households now get early warnings for disasters. This is up from approximately 73 per cent in 2013.

Preparation saves lives

Before the cyclone, the Red Cross helped people take practical steps so they would be ready during an emergency. For instance, community members raised the level of important roads for people to use when the cyclone’s rains caused flooding.

The project also included first aid training and supplied first aid kits to the community teams. In addition, they learned about search and rescue to find people who were trapped or lost.

Clean water and dry food were stored in advance and distributed to people who had evacuated during Cyclone Roanu. Some volunteers also bought food, water and backup batteries for the megaphones from their own funds once they knew the cyclone was coming.

One community organiser explained how this preparation helped:

“We had raised the level of the link road and during Roanu people used it to evacuate to safe shelters. During the evacuation some people were injured but our first aider was ready with a first aid kit and provided services to the injured people.”

Red Cross support continues

After the cyclone passed through Bangladesh, people returned home safely.

The volunteer committees then assessed damage to their communities. Sadly, some houses were destroyed and some animals were killed but there were no human fatalities in the project areas.

Since the cyclone, the Red Cross have been supporting 3,000 families from the most affected districts with urgently needed food and clean water. The communities also received tarpaulins, toolkits and cash grants for rebuilding.

This work will continue over the next few months and our ongoing programme to strengthen communities in times of emergency, and every day, will also continue.