Disaster Preparedness and Resiliency: Bangladesh
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Major Threats: Floods, Droughts, Cyclones,
Populations Affected: Urban & Rural Poor, Farmers, Women & Girls
Locations Affected: Northern Districts (drought and flood); Southern Districts (flood; sea-rise/salination)
Industries Affected: Agriculture, Manufacturing
Compounding Issues: Urban Migration, Poor Land-Use Planning, Environmental Degradation, Climate Change
World Risk Index Ranking: 5/173
Global Climate Risk Index: 5/178
Bangladesh is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change and natural disasters, with over six percent of the population affected by disasters each year. Between 1980 and 2013, the average Bangladeshi was personally affected by two disasters . The primary threats to Bangladesh are floods, droughts, cyclones and sea-level rise due to climate change. Over the last thirty years, Bangladesh has experienced nearly 200 of these climate-related disasters, which have killed thousands of people, destroyed homes and livelihoods and cost the nation around $16 billion in damage and economic losses .
The northern districts of the country are highly susceptible to drought, while the southern districts experience heavy rainfall that results in major floods. Both these events have a significant effect on food security for the entire nation.
Across all regions and disasters, it is the poor and marginalized, particularly women and girls, who suffer the most. Those living on small offshore islands (chars), indigenous people, and poor communities engaged in climate-sensitive livelihoods, are also acutely affected because when disaster strikes they become even poorer and are forced to move to even more vulnerable areas in search of cheaper living.
The national government of Bangladesh, international agencies such as the UN and World Bank, and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and local NGOs have been working for decades to prepare for disasters and mitigate the effects of climate change. However, “their ability to voice community priorities for government support, and reduce vulnerability to long term climate change impacts such as salt water intrusion, sea level rise, and extreme and unpredictable weather patterns remains highly questionable,” according to Hasan Mazumdar, Give2Asia’s Field Advisor and The Asia Foundation Country Representative in Bangladesh.
To address these issues, international donors have the opportunity to support these communities with grassroots solutions such as adapting farming practices to climate change and educating rural communities on early warning systems, evacuation routes, and shelters already in place.
MAJOR THREATS & THE ECONOMY
Densely populated with a third of its 155 million people living below the poverty line, Bangladesh’s natural vulnerability is made worse by the living conditions of many of its citizens.
Agriculture, which employs 49 percent of the population, is one of the most vulnerable industries in the country, along with fishing and livestock. Despite only 17 percent of the country working in the industry, manufacturing is also threatened by natural disasters . Khulna, Bangladesh, known as the Industrial City and Bangladesh’s third most populous city is rated as one of the top 10 most vulnerable cities in the world in terms of economic assets at risk . Traditional economic activities and livelihoods are also badly affected by climate change and disaster, including crafts made from local resources, and local salt production.
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT
Climate change has caused many hazards in Bangladesh and is likely to worsen the impact of future disasters, especially hydrometeorological disasters. As mentioned in the introduction, predicted sea level rise by 2050 would cover 17 percent of the country. The effects of climate change and rising seas are already being felt, as many people from poor coastal communities inundate Dhaka and its suburbs after losing land to soil erosion.
According to Give2Asia’s field team in Bangladesh, the populations most affected by climate change are women, small marginal farmers, sharecroppers, laborers, urban slum dwellers, indigenous and minority groups and other marginalized groups, such as the disabled.
Intrusion of saline water in the fresh water rivers, canals, ponds and paddy fields has been on the rise over the past two decades in the southern coastal areas. In addition, local shrimp farming brings salt water to the inner lands. The salinity affects water for drinking and cooking, fresh water agriculture and fisheries, forests and other plantations, livestock, and overall livelihoods of people.
CLIMATE CHANGE & ITS IMPACT ON WOMEN
Low-lying southern areas most at risk carry a high burden of poverty and higher proportions of female-headed households. Many of the men no longer live in these areas, leaving the burden to feed all the respective households’ members on the shoulders of the women. Climate change and sea level rise will further limit availability of non-saline drinking water, which will in turn increase the burden on women, who regularly fetch household water from wells further and further from home.
“[Women] will be trapped in drudgery, having lesser time to complete household chores and having no time for recreation,” wrote Hasan Mazumdar, Give2Asia’s Field Advisor in Bangladesh and Country Representative for The Asia Foundation. “In recent years, women in saline affected areas have increasingly been suffering from premature abortion, which is attributed by local doctors to exposure to highly salinated drinking water.”
Climate change induced saline rises will reduce potential of producing vegetables through courtyard gardening – a common practice by the women in rural Bangladesh. Such reduction in vegetable production will in turn affect nutrition of all members of the households, most acutely women.
Many women are already forced to drink water from sources that are unsafe for consumption. Almost all women lack privacy in sanitation, an overwhelming majority face skin ailments, even reproductive health related problems due to prolonged exposure to filthy water. Research indicates the situation appears to be so grave that males do not want to marry girls who have been brought up in water-logged areas.
With over 310 rivers and their tributaries, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, which empty into the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh, flooding affects more Bangladeshis than any other disaster . The three rivers that make up the Ganges Delta, the largest delta on Earth, provide livelihoods for farmers and fishermen, who as a result bear the brunt of nearly all hydrometeorological disasters.
It is estimated that 30-50 percent of Bangladesh floods annually, with the most severe happening in July and August . Flash floods affect the north, center and some southern parts including the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Southeast. River erosion affects all the banks of the mighty rivers. Floods, including on both sides of the Jamuna and Brahmaputra rivers, regularly affect children’s education, with school attendance dropping 50 percent during flooding. These areas cut across all the way from Kurigram district in the north to close to the middle of the country. When the water recedes it goes through the meeting point of theses two mighty rivers into the river Padma and affects districts like Faridpu and Manikgonj, which are quite close to Dhaka, the capital city.
In 2004, a large-scale flood inundated over half the country, caused 766 deaths, and caused $2.2 billion in economic losses .
Drought affects the second most Bangladeshis, following flooding. It is most common in the northwestern region, but can occur along all the major rivers. When drought occurs, the country’s food security is at risk, including losing up to 17 percent of its largest harvest, the Aman crop. Land subsidence depletes groundwater resources, worsening drought during the dry season.
Cyclones, Storm Surges and Salinity
Tropical cyclones from the Bay of Bengal are often accompanied by intense storm surges that range up to nine meters in height. These surges contribute to high casualties and property losses, mainly in the southern coastal regions.
In this century, casualty figures have decreased to several thousand despite growth in storm intensity. A lot of credit goes to preparedness work done at various levels – local to national – and the engagement of many stakeholders from the government, civil society including NGOs, international donors, development partners, and the general public.
ADAPTATION & CIVIL SOCIETY
Currently, the UN, the national government, INGOs, and local NGOs are all playing a role in disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation. The government recognizes that many communities are poorly informed about evacuation plans and the use of emergency shelters. Many people simply do not understand the early warning signals, lack sense of awareness, and are unwilling to leave their assets or properties behind.
Role of Government
The national institution responsible for disaster management is the National Disaster Management Council (NDMC), headed by the Prime Minister. The NDMC manages disaster-related policies and coordinates with other agencies to disseminate warning signals, conduct trainings, and raise public awareness. In 2012 the government established the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief to strengthen collaboration, reduce risk across sectors and carry out humanitarian assistance to those who are affected by disasters.
The national government has constructed 2,590 cyclone shelters, 200 flood shelters, and used funding from Japan to replace an early warning system in the borough of Agargaon, Dhaka, install a new radar system at Rangpur, and a satellite ground receiving station at the storm warning center in Dhaka. This new equipment will help forecast and warn the country of flooding events.
In response to flood risks, the Ministry of Water Resources is leading the water management effort creating the Flood Action Plan, Flood Hydrology Study, Flood management Model Study, National Water Policy and Flood Early Warning System. The government has also established an operations center in Dhaka to respond and coordinate emergency relief with district committees.
Adaptation and the International Community
To improve community resilience to natural disasters, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) worked with NDMC of Bangladesh to construct disaster-resilient homes and develop new crops that can withstand drought and salinity. UNDP has also trained government officials in emergency response, provided expertise for development plans and advocated for civil society empowerment and engagement.
Many large national and well-known INGOs are in Bangladesh – The Red Crescent, CARE international, Oxfam, Save the Children, BRAC, and others. And, while there are over 2,000 local NGOs registered with the government that perform some program work in disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation, the best estimate is that only around 300 of them are currently active.
Large projects are funded through consortiums or directly in collaboration with national government, including: a comprehensive disaster management program, the Chars Livelihood Programme, Shiree Economic Empowerment of the Poorest, National Alliance for Risk Reduction and Response Initiatives and Developing and Strengthening Humanitarian Assistance and Risk Reduction Initiatives.
Adaptation and the Local Community
Local NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) have been trying to address the immediate impacts of climate change primarily through disaster risk reduction and adaptation initiatives. This includes organizing volunteer groups to respond to disasters, providing information on ways to reduce risk and vulnerability, constructing cyclone shelters, supporting alternative livelihoods, and adapting to extreme weather.
Currently, there are a large number of financing sources to advance climate change related activities in Bangladesh, however a significant proportion is small in amount, unpredictable in nature, and is generally tagged for sporadic projects. These small projects are generally handled by NGOs to pilot certain ideas or to promote good practices of other NGOs and agencies. Apart from these small-scale initiatives, 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. Three large funding windows are the Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund, Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund and the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience.
OPPORTUNITIES & RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INTERNATIONAL DONORS
The need for disaster preparedness, risk reduction and combating climate change is enormous in Bangladesh. There are many areas for donors to have impact or to add value to existing programs.
- 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 rain water 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.
PAST DISASTER & RISK REDUCTION PRACTITIONERS
These projects and lessons were presented at a series of Give2Asia & IIRR Conferences on Community-based Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Building and are grouped by country and practitioner, available for donor education purposes.