Bangladesh is one of the most natural disaster-prone countries of the world. The major disasters include flood, cyclone and storm surge, flash flood, drought, tornado, riverbank erosion, and landslide etc.
Here it may be mentioned that earthquake of severe nature also occurred in regions that are now parts of Bangladesh in the last century. Bangladesh is situated in the regions of high seismic risks. These extreme natural events are termed as disasters when they adversely affect the environment, including human beings, their shelters, or the resources essential for their livelihoods. Bangladesh has witnessed the devastation of some of the worst natural disasters of the world. The severe cyclone of November 1970 took a toll of thousands of human lives. The recent cyclone SIDR was also severe in nature and took away lives of many people. Flooding is another common natural disaster. The flood of 1988 inundated 89,000 sq. Km. areas of 52 districts of the country. The 1998 flood inundated 53 districts. The 2004 flood inundated 40 districts. Drought at some intervals also visits Bangladesh and causes disastrous crop failures. In 1979 the country was hit by a severe drought, which was termed by many as the worst in the recent past. Here it may be mentioned that earthquake of severe nature also occurred in regions that are now parts of Bangladesh in the last century. Bangladesh is situated in the regions of high seismic risks.
In recent years, Bangladesh has shifted its disaster management emphasis from a response and relief focus to a broader and more encompassing risk management framework. Now the government plays a comprehensive role in disaster management through an elaborate regulatory, policy and institutional framework. Bangladesh’s regulative framework for disaster management provides for the relevant legislative, policy and best practice framework under which the activity of disaster risk reduction and emergency management in Bangladesh is managed and implemented.
The Disaster Management Act is the legislative framework under which disaster risk reduction and emergency response management is undertaken and the legal basis on which activities and actions are managed. The National Disaster Management Policy states the national policy on disaster risk reduction and emergency response management, and describes the strategic policy framework, and national principles of disaster management in Bangladesh. It is strategic in nature and describes the broad national objectives, and strategies in disaster management. The National Plan for Disaster Management broadly outlines the systemic and institutional mechanisms under which disaster risk reduction and emergency response management is undertaken in Bangladesh. It mentions disaster management vision, strategic goals and conceptual framework and identifies priority areas for disaster risk reduction and emergency response management. The Standing Orders on Disaster outlines the disaster management arrangements in Bangladesh and describes in detail the roles and responsibilities of committees, Ministries, Departments and other organisations involved in disaster risk reduction and emergency response management. The present national strategy for disaster management is based on three key elements that include, redefining the risk environment, entailing systematic and improved hazard analysis and vulnerability/community risk assessments; and risk treatment and ranking, including incorporation of climate change impacts; managing the risk environment, including achieving a good balance of risk reduction options; moving from generic hazard to risk specific programmes, and; mainstreaming risk reduction across sectors through advocacy, policy and planning reform, and capacity building; and responding to the threat environment, including activating systems and mobilising resources; utilising vulnerability and risk databases for emergency response planning; and maintaining effective communications and early warning systems. The Disaster Management and Relief Division (DM&RD), Ministry of Food and Disaster Management (MoFDM) of the Government of Bangladesh has the responsibility for coordinating national disaster management efforts across all agencies. In 1997 the Ministry issued the Standing Orders on Disaster (SOD) to guide and monitor disaster management activities in Bangladesh. National and international NGOs and other civil society organisations are also playing important roles in advocating for improvements and encouraging and supporting positive initiatives on disaster management.
Over the years, Bangladesh has earned good name and international recognition for efficient management of disasters. In many cases, it is mentioned as a role model for others in managing disaster situations of varied nature. However, the disaster management system of the country needs further development. For this purpose, more focused initiatives are needed for increasing the capacity of the concerned government agencies. Education and training programmes in related areas especially for officials working on disaster management are required. This will help in developing professionalism of the disaster management system. There is a new challenge in the wake of the climate change.
Coping with this change needs new knowledge and skills. Bangladesh has resource constraints both human and material. To fill in these gaps more partnership especially international should be forged with institutions and organisations around the world to share and disseminate emerging knowledge and information on different dimensions of disaster and their management. New technologies are emerging to combat disaster situation and minimise its negative impacts on lives, assets and properties and above all livelihood of the disaster affected people. Acquiring these, need increased financial allocation especially from the government. Media has an important role to play in disaster management. There are scopes to use media extensively especially for disseminating information and building awareness on disaster management at the mass level. Both print and electronic media need to be used for this purpose through a well-planned action plan developed on the basis of experience and lessons learned in disaster management over the years. Increased community empowerment through sensitisation of the masses on disaster risk reduction is also essential.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)
The writer is Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka and a Member of National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh