Bangladesh experienced over 200 natural disasters since 1980, leaving a total death toll of approximately 200,000 people and causing economic loss worth nearly $17 billion. Every year, we incurred 1.8 percent of GDP loss due to natural disaster. It is estimated that 14 percent of our GDP is exposed to disasters. After the devastating cyclone of 1991, the concept of response (acting after the occurrence) has been changed by the new concept of total disaster management (which includes response, recovery, rehabilitation and prevention, mitigation and preparedness). This is the genesis of observing National Disaster Preparedness Day. After the 1998 floods, the momentum increased significantly towards risk reduction. Such change or shifts are well ahead of many global initiatives.
In order to make disaster management system operative in an effective and efficient manner we have taken a lot of initiatives and we achieved significant success. The progress achieved can be of two categories mainly – the institutional framework and the legal and policy framework. Among the public sector institutions, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, established in 1972, is the apex body, which currently focuses on the complete disaster management concept, and has taken shape as a separate ministry. The new concept is reflected in the allocation of business prioritising risk reduction as the centre of all activities.
The government has restructured and established the Disaster Management Department as the main organ or instrument in the field for implementing and coordinating various forms of disaster management activities. Merging two organisations – the Disaster Management Bureau (established after the 1991 cyclone) and the Directorate of Relief and Rehabilitation established earlier. For the dissemination of early warning signals of cyclones to the communities in the coastal zone, the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP), a globally renowned volunteer organization of Bangladesh, which combines volunteerism and communication technology, was established in 1972, after the devastating Bhola cyclone. The organisation has been restructured and rejuvenated through training, technology upgrades (e.g. wireless network) and extension of the areas per the changing cyclone route.
Besides these reformed organisations, there are frontier organisations like the Bangladesh Metrological Department, Flood Forecasting and Warning Center, Water Development Board, Fire Service and Civil Defense. In the last couple of years, these organisations have also been strengthened significantly.
Research organizations like IWM WARPO, CEGIS, BUET, BCAS and others have also proven their increased capability.
The most demanded legal instrument was enacted in 2012 viz. the Disaster Management (DM) Act – incorporating existing orders, reforming institutions, envisaging new institutions, putting necessary mechanisms in place and making the disaster management system accountable with mandatory legal provisions. Before this Act, we worked under the Standing Order on Disaster (SOD) issued in 1997. It has two important features - provision of duties and responsibilities for the ministries and departments and secondly, the establishment of committees at all levels, considering the inter-relatedness of disaster management activities. This SOD is regarded as the “Bible of Disaster Management”. Now these orders are part of the DM Act.
Currently we have other instruments like the Disaster Management Policy, approved by the cabinet, the Disaster Management Plan, guidelines also prepared for addressing specific disasters and purposes.
Understanding disaster and development related challenges, the General Economic Division incorporated a disaster and climate change action in the five year plan document (which started from the Sixth Five Year Plan). It's a tremendous achievement and is expected to guide the whole development process and quantify the results achieved with specific indicators. The Environment Ministry also prepared the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan and National plan of Action.
Mortality reduction is the single most important result we achieved, as it reduced from 300,000 in 1970 to 3,000 in 2007. Food production increased three times in 1970. Poverty reduced from 40 percent in 2005 to 24.7 percent in 2014. Economic growth is averaging at 6 percent and is expected to increase. Five out of the eight goals were achieved under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Literacy rate, sanitation coverage and women's participation are also mentionable achievements.
Against the backdrop of reforms done and the success achieved, we can claim justifiably that we are not afraid. But we must be aware about the present and future challenges. The changing patterns of disaster pose major challenges. We are better in managing rapid onset disasters like floods and cyclones. We have to agree that the intensity and frequency of natural disasters will increase with further climate change. On the other hand, we have no better understanding in managing slow- onset disasters, which include salinity, agricultural droughts and earthquakes. These disasters in the future may create insurmountable pressure on lives and livelihoods.
Unplanned urbanisation has been emerging as a major threat for us. Due to this process, many new disasters have already manifested. Urban congestion, fires, building collapses, pollution, urban flooding, etc. will be more frequent in the future.
Bangladesh, being a low deltaic country, is extremely vulnerable. Climate change has its impacts on every sector of the country's development. This will create complex and compound disasters. It is required to understand the change and its trend, and the dynamic and sustainable adaptation strategies. Longer term investments and strategies need to be developed.
Mainstreaming disaster and climate change issues in different sectors and in the development process are challenging tasks. Disaster and climate change is not an external issue – rather, it must be internalised by all sectors; otherwise, we shall not be able to overcome the odds successfully through just one ministry or department.
Human induced and technological disasters are getting more dominance in the landscape of disaster management. The role and engagement of the private sector is unquestionable. In our country, the matter to be considered is beyond the 'charity' mindset. Reduction of harmful consumption, production, distribution and deviant activities, attitudes and habits must be reduced. On the other hand, innovative ways need to be utilized to improve the disaster and climate change situation by producing and promoting new products and services. The other issue is short term versus long term investments, benefits, preparedness, planning and strategy. People here tend to prioritise short term benefits, but practitioners and academicians are always in favour of long term planning.
In the area of disaster management, Bangladesh is well ahead of many countries. This is why the country is considered a role model in managing natural disasters. The strength and attributes we have among others include community resilience, volunteerism, the Early Warning System, community based decision making process, government commitment, a vibrant NGO sector and an appreciable legal and institutional framework. These need to be strengthened further. Implementation of various provisions of legal and policy directives needs to be evaluated and further commitment is needed in this regard. Many provisions of the DM Act, especially the Disaster Management Fund, Volunteer Platform, Research and Training Institute, are to be put in place as priority activities. Educational and research organisations should be supported continuously.
This year is the beginning of three international interrelated processes – the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, and the COP21 Paris Agreement for climate change action. Bangladesh, as an active participating country, will once again prove to be the champion of disaster risk reduction through better preparedness at all levels and across all sectors, battling every type of disaster.
The writer is National Project Director, Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP II).
Chapter 1: Introduction
Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries of the world in terms of natural and anthropogenic hazards, is a low-lying deltaic country covering an area of 147,470 sq. km and supporting about 150 million people with a population density of 1033 per km2 . The geographical setting and meteorological characteristics has made the country vulnerable to different geo-hazardsand hydro-metrological hazards. The major disasters concerned in the country are floods, cyclones, droughts, tidal surges, tornadoes, earthquakes, river erosion, fire, infrastructure collapse, high arsenic contents of ground water, water logging, water and soil salinity, epidemic, and various forms of pollution etc. These events are termed as disasters when they adversely affect the entire environment, including human beings, shelters and the resources essential for livelihoods.
This report is an overview of the disasters, both natural and human induced, which affected Bangladesh in 2013. The report has been prepared based on data available with BMD, BWDB,
DMIC, and concerned NGOs. Various daily newspapers were also reviewed to gather relevant information. Case studies on Cyclone Mahasen, Tornado of Brahmanbaria and building collapse of Rana Plaza were also developed to complement the report.
Chapter 2: Flood
Floods are normal phenomenon in Bangladesh. It usually occurs during the monsoon season.
In 2013, the country experienced normal flooding incidents in July and September. On the onset of monsoon in July, a wider part of north Bengal and part of central region along the river Brahmaputra were affected. Furthermore, the north-western part of the country was flooded; although the area affected by flood was high, the duration was relatively low. In the northeastern part, on the contrary, flood intensity was short to moderate while moderate flooding occurred for short duration in the central region. In the southwestern part of the country, particularly in Satkhira and Khulna districts, floods were prolonged due to poor drainage conditions, especially in Kobodak Haribhanga and Shibsa river catchment areas. At Jhikorgacha of the Kobodak River, the water flow was above the danger level for consecutive 120 days (Annual Flood Report 2013, FFWC, Page VI) ; 9 people were killed and about 28,000 families were affected.
Chapter 3: Cyclone and Storm Surge
Cyclone and storm-surges are common annual events during the pre-monsoon and retreating monsoon periods along the coastal belt of Bangladesh. In 2013, the number of such coastal cyclonic events were quite few compared to previous years. The cyclone MAHASEN made landfall on 16th May as a pre-monsoon type cyclonic event. The cyclone affected 8 coastal districts that including Chittagong, Bhola, Barguna, Pirojpur, Noakhali, Patuakhali, Satkhira and Laxmipur; 386, 221 people 251 unions of 42 upazilas of these 8 districts were affected by the cyclone. The devastating consequences of the cyclone included death of 17 people and 102 injuries; also,14,828 houses were fully and 44,182 were partly damaged.
Chapter 4: Tornados and Nor’-Wester
A total number of 5 Tornado incidents were reported in the year 2013. These were Brahmanbaria Tornado on 22nd March, Natore and Noagoan Tornadoes on 1st April, Jessore Tornado on 25th May and Gopalganj Tornado on10th June. Among these, the Brahmanbaria Tornado was particularly catastrophic in nature; it passed through 6 unions of 2 upazilas of Brahmanbaria District. More than 15 villages were affected by the super Tornado, and a total of 34 people were killed and 388 were injured. Although the Natore Tornado had no death toll, 479 households were heavily and 809 households were partially affected. At Noagoan, 2 people died and 26 were injured. A total of 340 households were heavily and 3830 households were partially affected.
Chapter 5: Building Collapse
In recent years, incidents of building collapse have increased significantly throughout the country.
A total of 7 buildings collapsed during 2013 killing 1135 people4 . However, the collapse of Raza Plaza on April 24, 2013 was the most tragic industrial accident in the history of Bangladesh; it killed 1135 people, leaving 2,500 people injured. Immediately after the incident, a rescue operation was initiated under the guidance of Bangladesh Army in association with Bangladesh Navy, Fire Service, BGB and Police. In addition, many volunteers took part in the rescue activities. One of the important aspects of the rescue operation was the stimulus participation of volunteers of different age and groups. Around 1,000 volunteer from Dhaka, Keraniganj and Narayanganj took part in the rescue operation.
Chapter 6: Cold Wave
Cold wave coupled the country during the first week of January, affecting more than 20 districts including Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Nilphamary, Lalmonirhat, Rangpur, Kurigram,
Gaibandha, Bogra, Joypurhat, Naogaon, Nawabganj, Rajshahi, Natore, Sirajganj, Pabna and Mymensing in the north, Moulvibazar in the east and few districts in the south namely Kushtia,
Jessore, Faridpur and Madaripur. More than 50% of populations living in those districts were affected and 80 people were killed, many of them were children. During the cold wave of 2013,the temperature of Saidpur dropped down to 3 degrees Celsius, the lowest records in Bangladesh since 1968.
Chapter 7: River Bank Erosion
Out of 489 upazilas of Bangladesh, 94 upazilas were affected by river erosion in 2013, of which 35 were severe in nature. Some important erosion affected areas includes Sirajgong, Aricha,
Mawa, Chandpur and Rangpur, Dhanut upazila of Bogradistrict; also, 13 unions of river side upazilas in Kurigram district, Chilmariupazila, Bhuapur of Tangail district, Mirzapur upazila,
Chauholi upazila, Sirajgong hard point, Daulatpur upazila of Manikgang, Biyani Bazar, Chadpur,
Sonargoan upazila, Madanipur upazila, Goalando upazila, Pangsha upazila , Daulatpur upazila of Kushtia, Dumuria and Koira upazila of Khulna were affected.
Chapter 8: Fire
Fire is one of the notable human induced disasters in Bangladesh. Every year, hundreds of people die and many are injured due to fire accidents. In 2013, a total number of 8868 fire incidents took place throughout the country and most of the them occurred in Dhaka and Chittagong.
Secondary data from newspapers shows that in 2013 the number of death occurred due to fire hazard were 65 and 191 people were injured.
Chapter 9: Earthquake and Tsunami
Due to its close proximity to tectonically active plate boundaries, Bangladesh is prone to earthquake. The country has experienced numerous large earthquakes in the past 200 years. In 2013, BMD has recorded 16 earthquake tremors with a magnitude ranging from 3.3 to 5.9 RS in and around Bangladesh border areas. The earthquake of January 9, 2013 had a magnitude of 5.9.RS and was felt throughout the country. The epicenter was 495km from Dhaka city and was located near Bangladesh-Myanmar border area. There was no report of any casualties or damages. However, there was tsunami warning or tsunami effects along the coastal belt of Bangladesh in 2013.
Chapter 10: Other Disaster
Besides the above-mentioned hazards, other significant disasters in Bangladesh are arsenic contamination, salinity intrusion, drought, water logging and landslides. The southwestern coastal belt of Bangladesh is suffering from salinity intrusion and water logging for ages. There is also the case of drought in northwestern part. Arsenic contamination of ground water is also a cause of prolonged suffering for most part of the country. However, there was only one incident of land slide in 2013 at Lalkhan Bazar, Chittagong Cityon 28th July. In total 2 women were killed in the incident.
Chapter 11: Conclusion
Bangladesh faced a number of disasters in 2013, among which 3 events were catastrophic in nature. The Cyclone Mahasen hit 8 coastal districts; however prompt effective and collaborative initiatives by government and other concern organizations and stakeholders restricted the loss and damage to a minimum level. The Tornado of Brahmanbaria was also addressed by the Government utmost effort . The incident of Rana Plaza was a challenge as such scale of building collapse was new to the country. Nevertheless the voluntarism to rescue the victims gave Bangladesh another legendary success of coping and fighting with disasters.