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.


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 15 December 2019

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”