Recently Department of Disaster Management in collaboration with Shifting the Power and Dhaka Earthquake and Emergency Preparedness Programme (DEEP) of Christian Aid Bangladesh organized a roundtable titled “Let the world know, Bangladesh is prepared for facing disasters”. Here we publish a summary of the discussion.
Md. Reaz Ahmed, Director General, Department of Disaster Management
In today's roundtable we will discuss what we have done so far, what we are doing now and what our future are regarding the management of disasters in the country. As part of earthquake preparedness, we are working on debris management in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet. We have already developed an earthquake contingency plan for these areas. We have bought about 100,000 tents to provide shelter to earthquake-affected people. The government has bought advanced rescue machineries worth Tk 250 crore. As part of medical preparedness, we have trained 6,000 doctors and paramedics.
To increase capacity of hospitals we have developed an in-built guideline and database of doctors and blood donors. Under the Dhaka Urban Resilience Project, we are preparing a database on the bearing capacity of soil in Dhaka and its adjacent areas such as Narayanganj, Savar and Gazipur. This database will help identify what type of piling will be needed to construct a building in these areas.
However, we need to do a lot more to take our disaster preparedness to a higher level. As the nature of disasters is changing, we need to find innovative solutions to effectively tackle catastrophes. It is not always possible to predict a disaster but if we take adequate preparation we can certainly minimize loss and damage caused by a disaster. We also need to pay attention to those disasters which may not have taken a large number of human lives but seriously affect people's everyday lives, e.g. unusual increase or decrease in temperature.
I would like to request all the distinguished participants of today's roundtable to share their valuable insights about how we can move forward in our disaster management efforts.
Shakeb Nabi, Country Director, Christian Aid
The slogan “Let the world know, Bangladesh is prepared for facing disasters” is very optimistic. It talks about Bangladesh as a global example and the world should learn about disaster preparedness from Bangladesh. We all know that Bangladesh is a country which tackles huge disasters successfully every year. We need to talk about how Bangladesh has been responding to various disasters. Bangladesh has a strong culture of safety. There are some basic safety measures that you do not need to teach people; it comes naturally to them.
In today's roundtable, we will discuss why Bangladesh is a good example, and also some of the examples taken from Bangladesh which we would like to share with the global community and how we can do that.
Gawher Nayeem Wahra, Adjunct Faculty of IDMVS, University of Dhaka and Founder Member Secretary, Disaster Forum
Bangladesh has attained laudable success in disaster management. On the one hand, we are unfortunate that our climatic conditions are such that natural disasters are unavoidable. But on the other hand, we are fortunate enough to make predictions and therefore take preventive measures when it comes to tackling disasters. It is not always possible to predict all disasters, such as earthquakes, but we can certainly prepare ourselves to tackle and reduce damage caused by such disasters.
I would like to focus on cyclone shelters. We have successfully transformed these shelters into multipurpose buildings. Now if we could bring these shelters under housing facilities it would benefit a lot of people.
Another laudable initiative by the government was to involve local people in building dams and creating shelter facilities there for the disaster-affected people. One of these projects is located in Char Fashion area of Bhola. Local people themselves are taking care of these dams. These facilities have been providing shelter to common people for the last 13-14 years. Last year we saw that floods caused havoc due to the failure of dams. The major reason behind such failures is poor maintenance of these dams. If we can replicate the model of Char Fashion we can easily prevent such disasters.
There is another gap in the maintenance of sluice gates. In both the cases of Sidr and Aila, the water couldn't be released on time and it caused havoc for crops and property. It all happened due to poor management of sluice gates.
Finally, we need to invest more in creating awareness among general people about disaster preparedness. We should effectively utilize local knowledge about disaster management and disseminate it to a wider audience.
Mahbuba Nasreen, Director and Professor, Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies, University of Dhaka
The paradigm of disaster management has shifted and our knowledge about it has also changed over time. Now we know that we can't control disasters; we have to manage it and reduce risks of disasters. Earlier we only focused on natural disasters. But now we are actively considering manmade disasters. Previously, the government, particularly the Department for Disaster Management, used to work separately. Now we are seeing active collaboration between government and non-government actors in disaster management efforts. Today's roundtable is a good example in this regard. Another major development is the recognition of the role of women in disaster management. Earlier they were seen only as victims. This change has also been reflected in our policy documents. There is still a lot to improve. I want to highlight that all the documents related to disaster management such as Standing Orders on Disaster and Sendai Frameworks need to be simplified and disseminated widely so that ordinary people can learn about tackling a disaster.
Sanjib Biswas Sanjay, Programme Manager, Christian Aid Bangladesh
There are four pillars of good governance: political will, people's will, strong institution, and punishment or award mechanism. In the case of Bangladesh's disaster management sector, the honourable prime minister herself is playing a leadership role which reflects strong political will. With this support the whole disaster management effort is evolving with greater efficiency and inclusiveness. We have successfully introduced digital technologies in the disaster management system. We have been able to build a strong collaboration between government and non-government actors which also reflects a strong institution for disaster management. We are a disaster-resilient nation as we have survived many disasters since the birth of the country. However, there is no scope for us to be complacent with our achievements. We need to be ever more vigilant and constantly develop our disaster management capacity to cope with the changing nature of disasters.
Ashfaqur Rahman, Senior Project Officer, SEEDS Asia
I would like to emphasise on community engagement in disaster management. After the Kobe earthquake in 1995, an assessment was conducted by the Japanese government on how the affected people were rescued. It was found that 98 percent people were rescued by their friends, neighbours and relatives while only 2 percent people were rescued by professional earthquake rescue team. A community-based model of disaster management was developed from this finding.. We are trying to create a platform for these community organizations so that they can share their experiences and problems among themselves and take joint initiatives to solve local problems.
Rahima Sultana Kazal, Executive Director, AVAS
Local women play a key role in disaster management and their contribution is recognised by the society. We have been able to build a disaster-resilient community in the area with national and international support.
To take this achievement forward we need to invest more in local efforts as local organisations are the first responders in any disaster situation. We also need to invest more in creating awareness among general people about disaster preparedness. Our signalling system and emergency communication system need to be simplified so that ordinary people can easily understand them and take precautionary measures. Finally, when we assess a disaster we generally focus on mortality rate. We should equally emphasise on loss of property and livelihoods of the affected people because in Aila and other disasters we found that the death rate is very low compared to the damage rate.
MA Halim, Director, Bangladesh Red Crescent Society
I would like to suggest inclusion of disaster preparedness drills and education in the curriculum of primary education. There should be more departments and research centres on disaster management at the university level.
Also Forecast-based Financing can be promoted as advance financial assistance to families who might be badly affected during a disaster. It helps them to recover from the immediate shock of a disaster. This model is working effectively in our project areas.
Finally, we have not been able to engage the private sector in disaster management. They can be key providers of resources for carrying out disaster management efforts.
Manik Kumar Saha, Project Manager, Plan International Bangladesh
The curriculum of class five to 12 includes necessary information on disaster management which I believe is a global example. Last year CEGIS did a forecast of river erosion which was 90-95 percent accurate. If we can include such digital technologies in the disaster management system, then that would be another global example.
The rural sector is a champion when it comes to disaster management. What worries me is this: How resilient will Dhaka be if a disaster strikes? There is a lot to do regarding disaster risk reduction in urban areas. We are training urban volunteers, but we must develop effective mechanisms to retain these human resources. In our urban risk assessment and community risk assessment frameworks children and persons with disabilities should be given more attention.
The government is currently preparing master plans for developing municipalities and secondary towns. Disaster risk reduction should be an integral part of these plans.
Ranjon Francis Rozario, Assistant Executive Director, Caritas Bangladesh
We have achieved some expertise in tacking disasters in rural areas. Now we should improve our capacity of disaster management in urban areas. We have no prior experience of combating an earthquake and we are also not adequately prepared to face such a calamity. Therefore, we should focus on earthquake preparedness.
Shafiul Alam, Programmer Co-ordinator, Start Fund Bangladesh
Bangladesh has improved a lot in coordinating disaster management efforts. The government is leading from the front in this regard. Whenever a disaster occurs they are the first to respond. This is an example worth sharing. Another important thing is to increase investment in earthquake preparedness.
Anjum Nahed Chowdhury, Director, Gono Unnayan Kendro
The people in rural areas are ever more prepared to combat disasters. Even if we can't provide relief immediately after a disaster, a family can survive on its own at least for a week. Our field experience shows that women are leading disaster management efforts at the family level. They are the first responder in a crisis. If we can increase their capacity and engage them in the planning process we can significantly improve our disaster preparedness.
Although our capacity to combat flood and cyclone has improved a lot, we are still lagging behind in tackling river erosion which has a crippling effect on property and livelihoods of the affected people.
MB Akhter, Programme Director, Oxfam Bangladesh
We have developed a flood hazard model. Based on this model we are providing flood insurance products in Sirajganj district. This insurance facility aims to provide cash relief in the event of a catastrophic flood. We have provided this support to 1,700 families for two years. This has proved to be an effective intervention. It can be replicated on a wider scale.
There should be a national database of volunteers so that we can keep track of them and quickly mobilize them in a disaster situation.
Suman Ahsanul Islam, Country Director, Humanitarian Leadership Academy
SME sector contributes 25 percent of our total GDP. During any disaster these enterprises suffer serious damage. Unfortunately, there is very little support for them in our disaster management system. In the SOD the business continuity plan has been mentioned briefly. It has also not received proper attention in the policy draft of disaster management. We should look into this issue seriously and develop a strong business continuity plan for SMEs so that they can successfully tackle a disaster.
Dr Antony Gnanamuthu, Delegate/Coordinator, Disaster Risk Reduction, German Red Cross Bangladesh Delegation
Bangladesh is well placed in disaster preparedness in terms of early warning system, early communication, last-mile connectivity, fast response system and multipurpose cyclone shelters. Bangladesh can share these examples globally. There are also some good practices that can be replicated in Bangladesh such as crop insurance system in Sri Lanka, forecast-based financing in Philippines and Vietnam, and community and school drill in Japan.
Kazi Shahidur Rahman, Humanitarian Affairs Specialist, UNRCO
Through the SOD we have successfully connected the community with the local government. Nowhere in the world have I seen such strong institutional engagement of community in disaster management.
Now, the main challenge before us lies in making our urban areas disaster-resilient and engaging the urban community in this effort. Community-based use of ICT can be of great help in this regard.
Abdul Latif Khan, Disaster Expert and Practitioner
Disaster management should be an integral part of our development policy. Disaster management ministry has conducted various research studies whose findings need to be applied in preparing our development policies.
Dr Mohammad Atiqur Rahman, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief
Both the government and non-government organisations have been carrying out various types of disaster management activities. We need to document the experience and output of these interventions.
Md Faizur Rahman, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief
As part of disaster preparedness, we are making huge investments in building disaster-resilient infrastructure such as cyclone and flood shelters, Mujib killa, herring roads and so on. We have a plan to build 13,000 bridges by 2021. So far we have built 10,000 bridges. We have a goal that by 2021 there will be no bamboo-made bridge. These infrastructures will strengthen our resilience system.
Khaled Mahmud, Director, Department of Disaster Management
We have introduced a toll-free number “1090” where you can get immediate weather alerts and warning messages about natural disasters on your phone. We need to popularise this number so that people can plan their daily activities by being informed about the weather situation and always stay alert about natural disasters.
We are putting special emphasis on community engagement in disaster management. For example, in Sariakandi of Bogra we are building flood-resilient houses. There we are providing funds and the local community is building houses. It has proved to be an effective intervention.
Abu Syed Mohammad Hashim, Director, Department of Disaster Management
We only talk about landslides in Chittagong Hill Tracts. But it also happens regularly in Sylhet as it is also a hilly area. We tend to think that flash floods happen in plain lands. But there are four valleys in Chittagong Hill Tracts—Chengi, Matamuhuri, Kasalong and Maini—where every year flash floods occur and cause havoc to property and livelihoods of local people. When we talk about flash floods and landslides, we must also include these areas.
During the Kobe earthquake, the media, particularly NSD TV, played a key role in tackling the disaster. I think our media can learn a lot from that experience and come forward to highlight the issues of disaster preparedness and management.
Satya Brata Saha, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief
The government is investing a lot in building disaster resilience in urban areas. To engage local government bodies in the management of disasters in urban areas, we are holding workshops and discussions with city corporations regularly. In all these interventions we have put special emphasis on earthquake preparedness.
Md Shah Kamal, Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief
Bangladesh has improved a lot in terms of adaptation to floods. Bangladeshi people are no more afraid of floods. Because they know how to tackle it. We are also successfully utilizing our indigenous knowledge to combat cyclones. The resources for disaster management must be decentralized and we working for this. Now every district has 200 tons of rice and Tk 2 lakh as reserve to tackle an emergency situation.
In AMCDRR 2016 in New Delhi where there were 5,000 participants from all around the world,. Narendra Modi in his speech of inauguration mentioned the name of Bangladesh five times as the best example to learn from in terms of tackling natural disasters.
In the SOD there was no mention of earthquake. We have already revised this document. In the revised version earthquake has been considered as a major hazard.
We still do not consider chemical hazard as a major hazard. Also, we do not have the capacity to tackle any chemical hazard. But we must address this very seriously. We have already started working on this issue.
As part of the earthquake contingency plan we have divided the whole Dhaka city into nine zones. Eight areas have been delegated to the Armed Forces Division and one area is under Border Guard Bangladesh. Fire Service and Civil Defense has been made the second force and volunteers are the third force. We have also linked community volunteers in this effort. In the event of a disaster in urban areas, urban volunteers will be affected. Community volunteers will then help. We are providing training on earthquake preparedness to 56,000 community volunteers. Again, if a cyclone strikes, urban volunteers will lend their support to rural areas. We are providing training on cyclone management to 32,000 urban volunteers.
We have also formed partnerships with India, Singapore, Malaysia and the US so that they can help us in rescue operations if our internal resources fall short to tackle a disaster. We are also holding drills and simulation trainings regularly to strengthen our earthquake preparedness. We have also sent our manpower and resources to earthquake-affected countries to get firsthand experience.
Rather than doing relief work we want to focus on disaster risk reduction. This is an important shift in our thought process on disaster management.
To engage local government institutions in disaster management we are providing training on disaster preparedness to local government representatives. This is an ongoing process and last year, we covered five districts.
We have already brought 10 medical colleges under retrofitting and made arrangements to set up mobile hospitals during emergency situations.
Having been inspired by Saima Wazed, we are now providing psychosocial mental health training to 72 persons with the assistance of JAICA. They have already worked in the Rohingya camps. I believe Bangladesh will attain great achievements in providing psychosocial mental health support to disaster-affected people. We are going to organise an international conference on disability in disaster management. To improve our disaster communication system, we are going to invest Tk 400 crore. The government has also approved a national resilience project under which Tk 400 crore would be earmarked for the disaster management department.
Finally, disaster management is a holistic process. We need full support from all the stakeholders. If we work together, we can tackle any disaster.
♦ Dhaka Earthquake and Emergency Preparedness (DEEP) is a European Commission Directorate-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Civil Protection -ECHO funded consortium initiative by Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), German Red Cross, Christian Aid Bangladesh, Action Against Hunger (ACF), International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC), American Red Cross. As part of the Humanitarian Implementation Plan (HIP) 2017, this project is aiming to enhance earthquake and emergency preparedness and reinforce de-centralized response capacities of 15 Urban Wards of Dhaka's South City Corporation where 1.6 million vulnerable people are living with the risk of urban disaster.
♦ Shifting the Power is a START Network project supported by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) through the visionary Disasters Emergency Preparedness Programme (DEPP) implemented in 5 countries, Christian Aid led the project aims to support local actors to take their place alongside international actors to create a balanced humanitarian system based on “localization” approach in Bangladesh. Christian Aid along with 5 International organizations supports 11 local organizations to strengthen their organizational capacity for effective, efficient, timely humanitarian response.