Bangladesh tries new way to aid flood-hit families: cash up front

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Flood-affected people wade through flooded water in Jamalpur, Bangladesh, on July 21, 2019. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
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Flood-affected people receives water purifying tablets from volunteers in Jamalpur, Bangladesh, on July 21, 2019. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
Updated 26 July 2019

Bangladesh tries new way to aid flood-hit families: cash up front

  • Severe flooding after two weeks of heavy monsoon rain has killed at least 61 people, displaced nearly 800,000, and inundated thousands of homes across Bangladesh
  • Low-lying Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change

DHAKA: Parvin Begum, who saw her home on a secluded island in northern Bangladesh steadily devoured by floods this month, feels lucky.
She received some money before the disaster hit under a new form of aid, used for the first time in Bangladesh by the government and humanitarian agencies.
It gives funding to vulnerable people in advance of extreme weather, based on forecasts, so they are better prepared. With her cash, Begum bought food, rented a boat, and took her belongings to a government shelter on a nearby island before the rising water crossed the danger level.
“This is one of the worst floods I have seen in many years,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Kurigram, a town located about 350 km (217.5 miles) north of Dhaka.
“Things were easier for me because I received 4,500 taka ($53.42) and was prepared — otherwise I would have struggled a lot.”
Severe flooding after two weeks of heavy monsoon rain has killed at least 61 people, displaced nearly 800,000, and inundated thousands of homes across Bangladesh, government officials said this week.
Nearly 3 million people are struggling with the impacts of the floods, the worst in two years, according to the disaster management and relief ministry.
Low-lying Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change, and researchers say people like Begum, who live on river islands that erode and form again, far away from the mainland, are on the frontline.
According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Begum is one of 25,000 people in Kurigram district who received aid money via their mobile phones, under the new “forecast-based financing” project.
“This approach uses weather forecasts to trigger early actions such as cash transfers, that can help reduce the impact of natural disasters,” said WFP spokeswoman Maherin Ahmed.
Aside from Bangladesh, the concept, which emerged in 2015, has been used in eight other countries to tackle climate-related shocks, according to the WFP.
The Red Cross has been a strong backer of the approach.
Women know best
Ahmed said research showed that forecast-based funding could lead to more effective use of aid in emergency situations.
A 2018 study in Nepal found it could save $22 million when responding to an emergency of an average size affecting about 175,000 people, she said.
Shah Kamal, secretary of Bangladesh’s disaster ministry, said the project would only really succeed if recipients used the money wisely.
It provides them with a much larger amount than previous cash transfer schemes deployed by the Bangladesh government, he noted.
“They need to invest it right,” said Kamal. “I believe the women here will be key. They are better at assessing their family’s needs.”
He advised participants against using the money to settle loans — which many poor Bangladeshis take out to survive tough times — saying that would not be “productive.”
Dipti Rani, 31, who lives in Kurigram with her husband and daughter, did use part of the money she got to pay off a debt.
But she also spent some on bamboo sticks to raise up her home in the hope of keeping her family safe from river floods.
They were marooned there for 11 days, before the water began to recede.
“I thankfully survived the floods a week ago thanks to the money. But the water has been rising again since yesterday. What am I going to do now?” she asked.


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 24 January 2020

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

“Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

“So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”