Göpf Berweger visited Bangladesh for about 6 months in 1971 and 1972. He was one of the first delegates of the International League of Red Cross Societies working for victims of devastating cyclone that hit coastal belt of Bangladesh on November 13, 1970
What was your main assignment?
Our main job in 1971 was to get hundreds of tons of relief goods, mainly in the harbour of Chittagong, de-blocked and cleared for distribution and distributed to the victim areas of the cyclone. Also we wanted to get a clearer idea about the cyclone's effects and possibilities to prevent similar effects for the future.
What difficulties did you face in 1971?
It turned out to be an extremely difficult task because of the oppressive role of the Pakistani military personnel on one side and the Bengali liberation movements on the other. It was especially cumbersome to get hold of some steamers and boats to be able to move in the coastal belt and to transport relief goods.
What was your role in 1972?
In summer 1972, after the formal independence of Bangladesh, my first assignment was a short stay in the Khulna District area with the local Red Cross branch for milk feeding programme for children, providing basic supply such as wheat, soya, beans and sugar as well as medical treatments.
Where there many Swiss in Bangladesh at that time?
In the delegations of the League of Red Cross Society and International Committee of Red Cross there were a good number of Swiss citizens. For official support, in 1971 Swiss diplomatic and consulate staff was accessible for us in Calcutta, and in 1972 there was already established a sort of official or semi-official presence in a small office in the largest Dhaka hotel. First Representatives of Swiss technical cooperation (SDC) as well as a good number of Swiss NGOs were also in the country by then.
Can you tell a special moment you remember?
When we visited a little island south of Hatiya Island in the delta we met one or two dozens of men only. An elderly man told us what had happened in those brutal days of the cyclone, how they have lost a good number of their family members, how they managed to survive, and how life had become even harsher than what it was before. To our surprise these men were absolutely willing to stay on and to live further on their island, regardless whether they had to expect other cyclones and tidal waves to happen in the area - they just felt that their lives were anyway in the hands of God.