After the flood - restoring aquaculture in Bangladesh
Amena Khatun, a widow of Saliabukpur village in the Ganges Delta of Bangladesh, sheds tears when asked about the night of November 15, 2007, when Cyclone Sidr struck. "I will never forget that night," she says, "I have never seen such a flood in my life. My house was destroyed in a moment. Water was entering my yard and the water level rose. The pond was flooded and all the fish escaped." Living on a homestead of only a tenth of an acre, her fish pond was her only source of income, and the flood took her livelihood with it.
The Cyclone Affected Aquaculture Rehabilitation Project (CAARP), running in two phases between 2008 and 2010, was an initiative by the WorldFish Center to re-establish small-scale fish, shrimp and prawn farming for victims of Cyclone Sidr. In the process WorldFish and its partners have learned much about how, despite the seeming vulnerability of small ponds and handmade dikes, aquaculture can be an means of survival following natural disasters.
When Cyclone Sidr inundated the coast of Bangladesh it caused thousands of deaths and destroyed billions of dollars in infrastructure. Thousands of tonnes of fish stock were lost as ponds flooded and then stagnated, choked with silt and fallen trees. FAO estimated that some 262,000 of the poorest pond owners lost too much to return to farming. In a country where 60 per cent of animal protein comes from fish and 80 per cent of rural households turn to fishing for some part of the year, this was as serious a disaster as any agricultural blight.
Restoring drowned livelihoods
Given the importance of fish in Bangladesh, the WorldFish Center was quick to lead a major response to Sidr. The first and second phases of CAARP projects ran from March 2008 to April 2010, each funded by US$3 million from USAID. WorldFish partnered with 17 regional and international NGOs working in the southwest of the country, reached nearly 100,000 of the poorest pond owners and revitalised their fish production and marketing.
"Four or five months after Sidr," Khatun recounts, "WorldFish Center and Chandradip Development Society gave me fingerlings, fertilisers, lime, and cash for dike repair. We also had two meetings a month where we learned how to culture fish, the role of fertiliser, feeding fish, and about fish diseases." The project sought out the poorest and worst affected farms, including female-headed households like Khatun's, that had been raising fish, including carp (CAARP's namesake fish), bagda (Black tiger shrimp), and golda (Giant freshwater prawn).
The restoration began with a clean-up; partly funded by cash-for-work under CAARP. Farmers repaired dikes, removed fallen trees, and dragged nets across pond bottoms to scoop out leaves and silt. They then spread lime to disinfect the water for aquaculture and household use. To access and distribute inputs, newly established farmer groups worked with procurement committees formed and trained by partner NGOs. This multi-stakeholder approach helped to avoid the price collusion that often hampers large projects in post-disaster situations.
Anticipating the next storm
As an organisation that works in many coastal and otherwise disaster-prone areas, WorldFish took the Sidr experience as an opportunity to learn what aquaculture can do for crisis-hit populations and what disaster-response efforts can do for aquaculture. Data collection and action research ran alongside the CAARP projects, building on WorldFish's work in Aceh and Solomon Islands after the tsunamis of 2004 and 2007.
The experience will also contribute to future actions in Bangladesh, says CAARP manager Dr. Manjurul Karim. "The partner NGOs plan to incorporate their shared learning into their own programs," he reports. "We are also promoting similar aquaculture technologies in three new USAID funded projects in Bangladesh, Nobo Jibon-MYAP, GHERS-PRICE and CSISA. These new projects have been launched, complete with the technologies and ideas carried over from CAARP 1 and 2."
The biggest lesson learned from Sidr is how much aquaculture itself contributes to resilience in the region. Researchers found few households relying on aquaculture alone, but farmers knew that ponds were good assets in a disaster-prone areas. Ponds polluted by flooding proved able to recover naturally in just three months, and in many cases some stock survived. One month after Sidr struck, despite widespread food shortages, 23 per cent of households were drawing on their ponds for meals. This potential could be enhanced by innovations such as saline tolerant or faster-growing fish species and larger fish fingerlings from farmer-run nurseries, helping ponds return to productivity faster in the wake of future disasters.
Written by: T. Paul Cox
Date published: June 2011
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