Disaster Risk Reduction and Humanitarian Assistance- capabilities of Bangladesh

রাতঃস্মরণীয়'s picture
Submitted by rataswaraniya [Guest] on Mon, 20/05/2013 - 10:57pm
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First, the readers may wish to have a look onto the comparative statement of the scale and damage between Cyclone Sird in Bangladesh (2007) and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (2008).

The table itself explains the scales and degree of damages by the cyclones for the countries. A couple of my fellow acquaintances commented that the injury data isn’t that easily available as most of the injured people died within a couple of days after the cyclone hits due to no or very limited rescue operations. The group also commented that a maximum 10% of the death toll might have been occurred by the hit of Nargis. A couple of months before the Nargis hits I left my job in Afghanistan without any notice and came back to Bangladesh to join Cyclone Sidr response for an INGO in a Senior Programme Manager capacity. The day after the Nargis hits, a British organization submitted a list of 150 humanitarian workers for rapid deployment in Myanmar- the list included me. Unfortunately none of the 150 was permitted to land.

A little wonder, why Myanmar had do afford such a big loss although the scale of Cyclone Nargis was comparatively of lower scale than Cyclone Sidr! It’s indeed of surprise to the people not from humanitarian sector and who really not to be in know of this discipline. Hence, I’ve put my small efforts to explain that what magic had cost Bangladesh such comparatively lower damage due to Cyclone Sidr. This isn’t a technical paper and my humble acknowledgement that my knowledge isn’t to that level to write technical literature on this topic. But talking to people of relevant discipline or googling may be appropriate suggestion to know more about it.

Capacity of encountering natural disasters or reducing disaster risk is a major strength of Bangladesh. An online news portal quotes The Bureau of Statistics of Bangladesh Government that since 1585 till 1969, Bangladesh faced 27 cyclone catastrophes in these 385 years, while between 1970 and 2009, the number was 26 in these 39 years. In one hand, people’s capacity in preparedness and risk reduction has been increased instinctively. On the other hand, through continuous support from the government and non government humanitarian agencies, people’s risk reduction capacity has become a systematic strategy.

We can split the disaster risk reduction into three phases. The below graph will show some activates under each phase. It should be noted that these activities mentioned here are just indicative. There are so many other activities that rather difficult to elaborate in this limited room.

Pre disaster risk reduction comes first. Bangladesh has achieved huge success in this phase by mainly own resources, initiatives and management. Although foreign funding is made in this phase but presence of expatriates is comparatively limited in this phase. One more important point of this phase is Community Based Disaster Risk Management. In addition to the government and non government development associates, it’s been a big success for disseminating disaster risk reduction related knowledge and practice amongst the social and individual levels within the community. Let me point out a number of successes-

# Redcross movement is very strong in Bangladesh and its network is spread up to the Union Parishad level. Redcross volunteers are the first to act with warning message in any disaster situation. They also start working with the local government in primary disaster response such as moving people from houses to safe shelters, rescue operations, etc.

# With the assistance of government and non government humanitarian organizations people now posses knowledge of disaster and its significance and possess ideas of mitigation measures.

# Simulation on needful acts in different disaster contexts are being carried out at school, college, village levels in many areas of Bangladesh.

# Mass, especially people at the coast are more aware than before about the disaster preparedness. Once warned, they start necessary preparations such as moving to safer shelters, collecting potable water, etc.

# One important thing done by the non government organisations is stockpiling essentials for disaster at some strategic locations. It means pilling some stock at some strategic location to as to ensure immediate response of a disaster. Among the items, the important ones are water purification tablets, oral saline, plastic sheet, jerrycans, soap, kitchen utensils, plastic bucket, plastic latrine slabs, water treatment plant and large water tanks. Here, the strategic location has been meant for such places that most likely get disconnected from other areas after a disaster. Assistance from outside cannot reach the area due to damaged communication infrastructure.

Risk reduction during a disaster hits and its aftermath falls under humanitarian response. Both the phases are action oriented. We have notable strength in physical infrastructure and mitigation strategy. Bangladesh’s achievement here is also remarkable. Many countries can learn from our experience that how we encounter such situation with very limited resources. However, sometimes we have to depend on the international experts if the scale of disaster is large.

I am attempting to highlight some successful achievements here in encountering risks during in this regard-

# Now people are more aware about the disaster and its significance that any time before. People now know what to do when and how when a disaster hits.

# There are many cyclone shelters in Bangladesh although these are inadequate comparing to the need as well as not gender responsive. However, schools, colleges, madrasahs are often used as cyclone shelters. Affected people are in a hurry to reach the shelters. Moreover, small feeder roads are connecting the shelters with the habitat. But I have to say in many occasions the influential people of villages just grab these feeder roads adjacent to their houses. After Cyclone Sidr I took some initiatives to release such roads and repaired those earthen roads by the assistance of the villagers under cash for work schemes.

# During disaster, the government provides puffed rice and sweet molasses to the people staying at the safe shelters.

# Wish rare exceptions people face the disaster together with unity.

# During a disaster volunteer organisations, non government humanitarian organisations, civil administration and armed forces work together with discipline. Such coordinated approach is a significant strength of Bangladesh in disaster management.

Bangladesh has demonstrated many examples of success in post disaster management. A few of those are noted below-

# Bangladesh has approximately 64,000 Redcross volunteers who have trainings on and experience in rescue operations at different levels.

# Government of Bangladesh and NGOs have specialised skills in relief, foods and water management.

# Public health management in disaster is a notable strength of Bangladesh.

# People of local affected community start repairing their damaged houses by own initiatives or with nominal external support. Nowadays, owner driven family shelter repair is a popular concept. Owners of the damaged house receive bamboo, roofing sheets, some nails-wires, and sum of cash to repair their family shelter by themselves.

#Most of the NGOs have framework agreement with vendors at district level so as to ensure mobilisation of relief items within 24 to 48 hours.

Last but not the least, Bangladesh has a standing order on disaster management (SOD)- I don’t know how many countries have such.

Our capacity has been enhanced through three steps. We are knowing and learning about disaster risk reduction, them replicating the learning during disaster and its aftermath, and finally evaluating the performance- where we could have done better or where we have scope of improvement. These learning at the evaluation steps are again integrated and adjusted with the previous first steps of disaster risk reduction.

This article is not aimed to bang drum of success of Bangladesh and feeling proud thereby. But the little effort is to recognise the strength of Bangladesh in disaster management and to focus some areas where we are much advanced than many other countries. We still have many areas to improve and hopefully those will be attained in the course of time. But we can say aloud that many countries can learn many things from Bangladesh experience.


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