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.


France calls for international consensus on Libya peace process

Updated 18 January 2020

France calls for international consensus on Libya peace process

  • French President Emmanuel Macron due in Berlin on Sunday for the start of crisis summit
  • Priority is ceasefire and negotiations between government and Libyan army, says diplomatic source

French President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in Berlin on Sunday to take part in an international summit that aims to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Libya.

Ahead of the gathering, a French diplomatic source on Friday said the hope is that an international consensus can be reached to stabilize the situation, despite the differing goals of the participants. With a growing number of nations and groups actively involved in Libya, their goals need to be clarified, he added. France is participating in part to follow up on previous commitments it has made, he said, which need to be reconfirmed given the current volatile situation.

The source said that in light of the power struggle that has developed between the national unity government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army, commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which occupies about 80 per cent of the country, Macron will raise a number of issues, including: the necessity of ending the fighting between both sides in and around Tripoli, the only part of the country Haftar does not control; and the need for Al-Sarraj and Haftar to agree to negotiations within a framework agreed by the Berlin summit.

In addition to France, the participants in the peace conference include the US, Russia, China, the UK, Germany, Italy, the UAE, Turkey and a number of other African and Arab nations and organizations.

Despite the volatile backdrop against which it takes place, there are hopes that a peaceful solution is still possible if an internationally brokered agreement can be reached for a ceasefire and reconciliation process. Otherwise, it is feared Libya will become another battleground for warring regional and global powers.

The French diplomatic source said the conditions for a ceasefire were set by the UN Security Council in August last year, but that Russia, Turkey and Al-Sarraj have added additional conditions that are unacceptable to Haftar. The view from Paris, he added, is that any attempt to negotiate a ceasefire must be on realistic terms, and the priority is to prevent any escalation in fighting or expansion of the forces at war in the country. With this in mind, the announcement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he is sending troops to Tripoli is very worrying, he added.

The source said that if the peace effort is to succeed, all international powers need to take responsibility for their role in reaching a consensus to ensure stability, regardless of which side they support in the conflict.

He also called on all nations to respect an existing UN embargo on the supply of arms to the warring factions in Libya. The country is at risk of falling prey to many disruptive influences, he added, and the fear is that should the efforts to kick start peace negotiations fail, the flood gates will open and arms and troops will pour in. The country is on the brink of a total collapse that can only be prevented by a ceasefire, followed by an agreed political process to negotiate peace, he said.