Disaster Vulnerability: Snapshot of Bangladesh

Give2Asia and the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) have partnered to connect private sector philanthropy to effective community-based programs that mitigate disasters in Asia’s most vulnerable countries. This post comes as the third in a series of six outlining the vulnerability of countries selected for the program. Learn more about the NGO Disaster Preparedness Program or read more about Bangladesh’s vulnerability to disasters.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change and natural disasters. Over the last thirty years, Bangladesh has experienced nearly 200 climate-related disasters, of which have killed thousands of people, destroyed homes and livelihoods and cost the nation around $16 billion in damage and economic losses.

The primary threats to Bangladesh are floods, droughts, cyclones and sea-level rise due to climate change. The most vulnerable populationsinclude women, small marginal farmers, sharecroppers, laborers, urban slum dwellers, indigenous and minority groups, and other marginalized groups, such as the disabled. With one-third of Bangladesh’s population of 155 million living below the poverty line and 49 percent employed in the agricultural industry, food security is an increasingly pressing and affected issue. Rising sea levels threaten sources of water for drinking and cooking, fresh water agriculture and fisheries, forests and other plantations, livestock, and people’s overall livelihoods. Indigenous people, residents of offshore islands, and poor communities, are also acutely impacted by climate change.

Given Bangladesh’s natural geography of rivers and tributaries, floods affect Bangladeshis more than any other disaster. Thirty to fifty percent of Bangladesh floods annually, which severely disrupts children’s education, with school attendance dropping 50 percent during flooding. In 2004, a large-scale flood inundated over half the country, caused 766 deaths, and caused $2.2 billion in economic losses.

Droughts are most common in the northwestern region, but risks overall food security. Up to 17 percent of the Aman crop, Bangladesh’s largest harvest, is lost when droughts occur. Tropical cyclones from the Bay of Bengal are often accompanied by intense storm surges that cause high casualties and property losses, mainly in the southern coastal regions.

The national government of Bangladesh, international agencies such as the UN and World Bank, and INGOs and local NGOs has been working for decades to prepare for disasters and mitigate the effects of climate change. The government recognizes that many communities are poorly informed about evacuation plans and the use of emergency shelters. Many people do not understand the early warning signals, lack sense of awareness, and are unwilling to leave their assets or properties behind.

The Bangladesh national government has made efforts to combat disasters, establishing operation centers, constructing shelters, and updating early warning systems. The government’s National Disaster Management Council (NDMC) worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on building disaster-resilient homes and planting crops with drought and saline resilience.

Many INGOs are present in Bangladesh including: The Red Crescent, CARE international, Oxfam, Save the Children, and BRAC. However, only 300 of the over 2,000 registered local NGOs that work in disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation are currently active. Local NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) mostly address the immediate impacts of climate change primarily through disaster risk reduction and adaptation initiatives. These include: organizing volunteer groups, providing information on ways to reduce risk and vulnerability, constructing cyclone shelters, supporting alternative livelihoods, and adapting to extreme weather.

A significant portion of the financing sources seeking to advance climate change related activities are small, unpredictable, and tagged for sporadic projects, generally handled by NGOs to pilot certain ideas or promote good practices. Bilateral donors and UN bodies sometimes invest small to medium sized funding (often not exceeding US$5 million) which is re-directed through government agencies as well as national NGOs.

Opportunities for donors include:

  • Invest in knowledge management and research on disasters and climate change.
  • Disseminate knowledge on use of evacuation centers and early warning systems to local communities.
  • There is a need for programming and advocacy work to share best practices from the US and other countries, including South-South cooperation with local NGOs and CBOs in Bangladesh.
  • Construction of cyclone-resistant housing, schools, hospitals and shelters.
  • Invest in adaptations to saline intrusion, including knowledge and technology sharing for rainwater harvesting, as it will be critical for saline affected areas.
  • Develop long-term reading and learning materials on disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation for university students to study.
  • Include local NGOs and CBOs in all program design and implementation to build capacity of local sector and increase community ownership and involvement.
  • Support and train volunteer groups to respond to disasters.
  • Support alternative livelihoods for communities whose resources or livelihood  is threatened due to climate change.