Thursday, November 29, 2007

Grameen Bank Responds To Cyclone Sidr

By now, you are surely aware of the devastation suffered by southwestern Bangladesh in the wake of Cyclone Sidr. Hundreds of thousands of poor people have lost their homes, and millions more have lost their livelihoods due to the destruction of farms, fish ponds, roads, and other basic infrastructure. The death toll, currently less than 5,000, is expected to rise to close to 10,000 once all the damage has been accounted for.

You may be wondering how you can help. International agencies such as CARE have been providing immediate assistance to the survivors, delivering food, potable water, medicines, clothing, and short-term shelter. Episcopal Relief and Development is also on the scene, working, as they usually do, with local churches and humanitarian organizations to provide assistance. Aid organizations like these are always in need of support and would surely appreciate your help at this time.

I've also heard directly from Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank regarding his organization's response to the disaster:

Sorry for the delay in responding. I was visiting the worst affected areas and meeting the people who are the victims of this terrible disaster.

I wanted to follow up [you] with regarding the actions that Grameen Bank has taken in wake of the cyclone. As you know, Grameen Bank has already started to work with those affected. Around 675,000 Grameen Bank members have been affected by the cyclone in the affected areas of Barisal, Patuakhali, Borguna and Pirojpur. All our loan repayments have been suspended until 30 June 2008 for the areas that were hit by the cyclone.

We have also sent out 6-8 medical teams, each headed by graduate doctors, and supported by paramedics. These teams are handing out essential medicines. Local arrangements have been made for the vaccination and treatment of the affected livestock.

Our Branch Offices have taken the responsibility of distributing dry food, saline, alum and medical supplies. We are donating clothes, especially warm clothes, to the affected people as winter sets in. We are also distributing vegetable seeds to compensate for the loss of crops, rebuilding all damaged center houses that members use for Grameen Bank activities. We are also paying for exam entry fees and buying school supplies of children affected by the cyclone.

Grameen Bank has launched a massive housing loan program. These loans will be interest free. While the rebuilding is going on, we are planning on setting up temporary housing for the victims in order to provide some shelter from the cold weather that is setting in. Grameen Bank is giving out loans to compensate business capital losses.

Information about emergency response of Grameen Bank is on our website, The emergency activities are being carried out from our own funds.

However, recognizing the need for providing people with long-term and sustainable solutions, we are offering the possibility for our friends around the world to partner for future disaster preparedness through the following long term rebuilding activities:

Hospitals: Each hospital will cost approximately US$ 1 million. The hospitals will be run as social businesses, that is, non loss non dividend companies to provide medical treatment to the vulnerable population in the cyclone prone area at the lowest possible cost that will enable the hospitals to be run on a sustainable basis.

Cyclone shelters: Bangladesh has about an estimated 1,500 cyclone shelters. Grameen Bank can undertake to build cyclone shelters in the areas hit by Cyclone Sidr. Each cyclone shelter will cost US$ 130,000 and will hold up to 2,000 people. Bangladesh needs an additional 2,500 new cyclone shelters. We will shortly putt up pictures of cyclone shelters and design on our website.

Life saving Coastal Embankments: Coastal areas must have solid life protecting embankments to save lives. This has already proved to be a very reliable life saving device for human beings and animals, and also protecting the crops.

Rebuilding Homes: Each home will cost US$ 150 to build in the areas worst hit. People from around the world can contribute to building houses for people who lost their homes.

Scholarships for Children of Cyclone-Affected Families: A US$ 1,000 scholarship fund will enable each child from a cyclone affected to get through school. The scholarship would cover the costs of tuition, books, supplies and stationery, school uniforms for all the remaining years of school for the child.

Solar & Bio Gas Plants: Solar and biogas plants can bring electricity in the homes which do not have access to grid electricity.

Afforestation: Afforestation, along the embankment will reduce the windspeed of cyclones and protect the people from heavy on-rush of water.

As you can see, Grameen Bank is trying to develop a long-term strategy to protect residents of the disaster-prone portions of Bangladesh. This is a big endeavor that will take time and significant resources.

You can read more about this ambitious program by following this link. If you happen to have access to potential funding--for example, through your church or synogogue, or through a connection with a corporation or foundation that makes charitable donations--you might consider offering your support.

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