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How empty plastic bottles can help cyclone-prone Bangladeshi neighbours save lives

Tearfund training helps people in low-lying areas of Bangladesh prepare for catastrophic storms

22 Nov 2021

Children wearing life jackets made from plastic bottles enjoy a swimming lesson

Children wearing life jackets made from plastic bottles enjoy a swimming lesson | Shahadat Hossain/Tearfund

  • Tearfund training helps people in low-lying areas of Bangladesh prepare for catastrophic storms
  • Appeal launched by Tearfund to support people affected by climate crisis

Communities in Bangladesh’s cyclone-prone coastal areas have been learning practical skills, such as making life jackets and rafts from empty plastic bottles, to help them prepare for and reduce the effects of catastrophic storms. Tearfund’s worldwide network of churches and partners is working to equip people like Juliet and her community with the tools and techniques that they need to prepare for the effects of the climate crisis.

50-year-old Juliet was trained through her local church, by Christian development agency Tearfund’s local partner, World Concern Bangladesh, to help her community prepare for extreme climate events. She was motivated by the destruction wreaked by a previous cyclone: ‘We were speechless seeing the unparalleled power of nature,’ she said. Now she shares her knowledge in her village in the low-lying coastal Kalapara Upazila area, via weekly meetings, house-to-house visits and phone calls.

Juliet, who has become known as a ‘friend of the community’ says: ‘Our preparation starts in April or May. We repair the plinths our houses sit on and tie the houses with rope so that wind cannot blow them away. We keep some money ready, store dry food and collect candles in case of electricity failure.’ They also hold practice drills and allocate community duties, such as early warning methods, search and rescue, first aid, and damage assessment, in advance. Ward Disaster Management Committees are trained to identify larger projects such as keeping raised roads, connecting communities to cyclone shelters, in good repair.

Children are very vulnerable to drowning during flooding or tidal surges, so Tearfund’s training helps people like Juliet teach the community to make life jackets. Freely-available empty plastic bottles are recycled for this purpose, and the resulting jackets are lightweight for ease of use by the children. Rafts for adults are made from plastic drums. Families also learn to store household items and important documents safely from floods, often by burying them underground, and to make emergency portable stoves for cooking in a crisis.

When a storm is approaching, preparations ramp up, and children put on their plastic bottle life jackets. A lesson from Juliet in hair braiding can also be a life saver: Bengali women grow their hair very long, sometimes to their toes, and it can get snagged on trees or debris during storms. This is known to be a cause of death during cyclones so simply teaching and helping each other to braid and cover the hair reduces the hazard.

‘Everyone needs a Juliet in their lives,’ comments Tearfund’s Head of Church and Supporter Engagement Ruth Tormey. ‘She’s the kind of good neighbour you want in a crisis, but more importantly she puts the time and effort in before a crisis hits, by taking advantage of Tearfund’s training, to help prepare her community to literally weather the storms.’

Sanjeev Bhanja, Tearfund’s Disaster Management Lead for Asia, says: ‘The climate crisis is very real and people in communities like Juliet’s are already suffering. They face more frequent and more intense hazards, such as cyclones, flooding of agricultural land with salt water, rising sea levels and coastal erosion. They risk being pushed back into poverty, so Tearfund’s task is to help them prevent their hard work being washed away.’

For further information or interview requests call Louise Thomas, Media Officer, on 07590 775847, or for out of hours media enquiries please call 07929 339813.

Photos: larger file sizes can be downloaded using the links

1 & 2 Caption: Children wearing life jackets made from plastic bottles enjoy a swimming lesson Credit Shahadat Hossain/Tearfund. Larger file size may be downloaded here

3 Caption: Juliet demonstrates hair braiding with her daughter; it is one of several potentially life-saving techniques she has learnt through Tearfund’s training, and she shares the skills with her community. Credit Shahadat Hossain/Tearfund. Larger file size may be downloaded here

Notes to editors

About Tearfund’s appeal
Funds raised from this appeal - some of which are being matched up to £100k by a group of generous supporters - will be used to support Tearfund’s work around the world. This could include:

  • Cement to strengthen a home in an area like Juliet’s which is prone to flooding.
  • Empowering people in skills such as emergency first aid and search and rescue so they can save lives during a cyclone.
  • Paying for trees to be planted, providing a barrier that helps prevent homes and crops from being washed away by flooding.

About Bangladesh

  • Bangladesh is among the 10 most disaster-affected countries in the world, highly exposed to severe monsoon flooding and cyclones (UNOCHA).
  • Cyclones, tidal surges, storms, landslides, riverbank erosion and salinity intrusion into the soil significantly impact crop and vegetable production.
  • In an “average” year, about a quarter of the country is inundated during the monsoon; every four to five years, severe floods may cover two thirds of the country.
  • 80% of Bangladesh is a floodplain, with the majority of the country a metre or less above sea level and 230 rivers. Along with water, these river systems carry between 1-1.4 billion tonnes of fertile silt through the country every year, forming the foundation for much of the country’s agriculture.
  • Because Bangladesh is naturally prone to flooding, it has been one of the world’s countries to be hardest hit by climate change.
  • Flooding in Bangladesh is predicted to become more extreme due to cyclonic storm surges and rising sea levels. Under a “moderate” climate change scenario, flooding will become more intense and cover greater areas. (BBC)
  • The 2020 floods in Bangladesh were some of the worst the country has ever seen.
  • The flooding started in late June – earlier than usual — with a never-before seen “triple peak”, resulting in the second-highest level of flooding since 1989 and the second longest since 1998. According to the Government of Bangladesh, 5.5 million people were affected, and 1 million houses were waterlogged. About 1.1 million people were displaced, and almost 100,000 were evacuated to some 1,500 shelters. (UNOCHA)
  • Bangladesh has also been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021 and there have been multiple lockdowns.

About Tearfund
Tearfund is a Christian charity that partners with churches in more than 50 of the world’s poorest countries. We tackle poverty through sustainable development, responding to disasters and challenging injustice. We believe an end to extreme poverty is possible. Tearfund is also a member of the Disasters Emergency Committee. For more information about the work of Tearfund, please visit

Children wearing life jackets made from plastic bottles enjoy a swimming lesson. Shahadat Hossain/Tearfund.

Children wearing life jackets made from plastic bottles enjoy a swimming lesson

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