DHAKA (AlertNet) - Bangladesh has launched a community-based insurance scheme to provide financial security to over two million coastal fishermen whose work is becoming increasingly dangerous as the number and severity of storms increase and become more unpredictable.
Fishermen have welcomed the scheme, which is being introduced by the state-run Jiban Bima Corporation (JBC) in 15 coastal districts, and a significant number have already enrolled in it, each paying Tk 1,240 ($16) a year for insurance cover of Tk 200,000 ($2,500).
“If any fisherman dies after buying a policy, his family members or nominated person will get Tk 200,000 as compensation,” project manager Dulal Chandra Nandi told AlertNet. “If any policy buyer remains missing for six months, his heirs will get 50 percent of the claim and the rest will be given after another six months if the policy holder remains untraced.”
He said coastal fishermen are very poor and highly vulnerable to cyclones and other disastrous weather events. They are also easy prey for river pirates, and subject to attacks by tigers while fishing near the Sundarbans.
“We found that when fishermen die or go missing, their family members suffer severe financial problems. We have considered their agony while planning the insurance policy,” said Nandi. There are some 2 million members of the National Fishermen Samity (Association) who save some money every month, and the JBC plans to provide all of them with insurance cover eventually.
“The insurance policy is community based. The Samity will pay us the premium direct through banking channels from the fishermen’s savings. Paying only Tk 1,240 won’t be very tough for them, they earn a good sum during the peak season,” he said.
“We have noticed huge enthusiasm from the community,” Nandi added. “We can say that at least one million fishermen will enroll in the scheme in the coming year.”
He said the donor community was not involved in the scheme because the yearly premium was very small. “In India a similar insurance scheme closed down at one stage after donors withdrew their support.”
Rafiqul Islam, president of Satkhira Fisheries Samity on the southwest coast, told AlertNet the community had long wanted a customised insurance policy for fishermen.
“We are a most risky profession. Fishermen are the first to be hit when a cyclone or storm breaks. So their family members need protection, especially financial back-up which the new insurance policy will ensure,” he said.
Islam said dozens of people died and thousands of fishermen remained missing for days when a tropical storm hit the coast in October. The weather office hoisted warming Signal No.3 for the coastal districts but the storm struck with devastating power, more like a cyclone.
He said he believed the cost of the insurance was affordable, even for poor families.
“Even if a fisherman saves only Tk 4 per day he will be able to pay the (insurance) premium easily to get a benefit of Tk 200,000 in case of an incident,” Islam said. “The insurance is very much needed for people like us.”
Fishermen’s lives are at great risk because severe natural disasters are hitting Bangladesh more frequently, he said. And "when a fisherman dies, his family becomes penniless,” he said.
Ziaul Huq Mukta, Regional Policy Coordinator for Oxfam GB Asia, said the fishing community had become increasingly vulnerable because of the larger number of storms justifying a Signal No. 3 warning.
Quoting a study by the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), he said the intensity and frequency of storms had increased threefold in three decades. In each of the past three years, Bangladesh has had 10 to 14 storms severe enough for a Signal No. 3 warning. Thirty years ago, just four or five such warnings were issued each year, he said..
JBC managing director Parikshit Datta Choudhury said many fishermen work as bonded labourers for years and their family members face serious financial difficulties if they die or are lost at sea.
Private insurance companies will also be involved in the scheme in the future to provide further benefits to the fishing community, he said.
Joint Secretary of the Fisheries and Livestock Ministry (MoFL) Shamsul Kibria said that nearly 150 fishermen die every year while fishing in the Bay of Bengal.
The premiums the fishermen pay will come down significantly as the number of policy holder increases, he said.
Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.