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“When our village flooded last year, the waterline in our house was sometimes above our waistlines. Luckily we had made preparations by elevating the bed in our house as high as we could. At one point, me and my children had to stay on the bed for five straight days,” says Mongli Bala, a single mother of three from Jelepara Village, Kurigram Sadar Upazila, Kurigram District.

For the residents of Jelepara, the monsoon season does not mark a long-awaited relief from the scorching heat of summer anymore. Because of the effects of climate change, the village has been subjected to worsening floods for years now, which has made damaged crops, lost livelihoods and months of unusually frugal existence the most common associations with the seasonal rains.

“It’s hard to list all the struggles we face during floods. Even going to the toilet becomes difficult. If the water level is low, my kids and I take turns to go to a temporary floating toilet outside our house once a day. If the water level is high, we have no other option but to somehow do it in the water in our house,” Mongli explains.

Amidst such conditions, taking care of one’s hygiene becomes close to impossible for the villagers. Because many, including Mongli, are not able to work full time during the floods, they prioritize using their savings on food and other essentials, instead of hygiene products. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, maintaining personal hygiene has become more crucial than ever. This is why UNFPA was determined to help the villagers address their hygiene needs when floods were expected to hit Kurigram District in June of 2020.

With funding provided by United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) and Australia Aid, almost 6,000 vulnerable families in Kurigram, Gaibandha and Jamalpur Districts received UNFPA’s signature Dignity Kits that contain items for both taking care of one’s personal hygiene and protecting oneself from gender-based violence in humanitarian contexts. To proactively mitigate the projected  humanitarian impact of the floods, the Dignity Kits were distributed before the floods actually hit the villages. It was the first time ever that such anticipatory action had been taken in Bangladesh.

“Everything we received was useful”, exclaims Mongli who was among the recipients of the kit. “With the soaps, my children and I were able to wash ourselves whenever we wanted. With the torch light, I was able to look for things in my house and move safely after dark. Even the bucket the items came in was very useful, because we could store clean water in it! That’s usually one of the most important things we lack during floods.”

However, one item in the kits was above all for both Mongli and her adolescent daughter:

“The menstrual cloth was definitely the best thing we received. Previously during floods, we would have to rip our old clothes or other fabrics in the house and use them as cloths during our period. I am so happy that I did not have to do it this time. Even a year later I am still able to use it,” Mongli explains enthusiastically.

With floods expected to hit Kurigram District yet again in 2021, UNFPA and its partners are looking  for ways to build on last year’s efforts to help the villagers be even more prepared for the floods. Consultations are being held with the local communities to learn how the relief they received could be further improved.

Concentratedly hanging laundry on the yard of her house, Mongli takes some time to answer the question on how she feels the support could be better this year. As she throws her saree on the hanging rope, she finally responds:

 “It’s not so much about the products you receive, but when you receive them. Sometimes we have received support a month after the floods and even though it is always useful, a lot of damage has already happened. Last year was much better, but maybe this year you could give us the aid even a week earlier,” she says with a hearty laugh.