Fertile but fragile Bangladesh at climate risk

07.05.2015 - Pressenza Hong Kong

Fertile but fragile Bangladesh at climate risk
(Image by Aiko Fujioka Henderson)

The Sendai Framework is a UN recognized and accepted Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 with worldwide coverage. It signals the start of a post development agenda after the end of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for this year.

Bangladesh representative Sariful Islam – Research Associate at RHSTEP* Bangladesh – took part in the event that the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) organized as a World Conference in Sendai, Japan from 14-18 March, 2015 as one among representatives from 187 countries that have adopted the Sendai Framework as the first major agreement.

“UNDP recently mentioned Bangladesh as a global leader in its institutional framework for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development,” insisted Sariful Islam, “with a number of core government policies and programmes incorporating risk reduction from their earliest stages.”

Margareta Wahlström, Head of UNISDR, said that adoption of this new Framework for disaster risk reduction opens a major new chapter in sustainable development as it outlines clear targets and priorities for action which will lead to a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihood and health.

The 2015 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction states that economic losses from disasters are now reaching an average of US$250 billion to US$300 billion annually. Another report by UNDP says, in the last 30 years, natural disasters have cost the world some USD 3.5 trillion. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, the economic costs of disasters have risen, on average, by a factor of 16. More than 1.3 million people have been killed by disaster in the last two decades, almost all of them (95 percent) in developing countries. Disasters have prevented many countries from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and increasingly threaten development assistance investments.

“Although Bangladesh has made its image as global model for disaster risk reduction but several statistics showed the disaster vulnerability of our country,” Sariful Islam continued. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change mentions, rising sea levels will wipe out more cultivated land that will lead to a loss of 17% of total land of Bangladesh by 2050 and cause 20 million environmental refugees.”

Regarding Bangladesh the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme reports economic growth has been averaging 6% for the last decade, poverty has decreased from 40% in 2005 to 24.7% in 2014 and Bangladesh had already achieved five out of eight of the MDGs.

“This has all been achieved against the backdrop of being exposed to natural and human-induced hazards. It is estimated that 14% of Bangladesh’s GDP is exposed to disasters on an annual basis. This is a testament to the innate resilience of the Bangladeshi people, who continue to make developmental progress while living with disasters and climate risk,” he added.

The report shows, highly dense population (1,203 people/sq km), rapid and unplanned urbanisation (at a rate of 2.9% per year) combined with a significant earthquake risk pose a severe threat to lives, livelihoods and property in Bangladesh’s cities. Slow onset and persistent disasters like salinity, water logging and drought merit increased attention. Drivers to economic growth are currently also contributing to increased risk which makes clear the need for integrated efforts on climate adaptation and risk reduction programming to enhance resilience in Bangladesh.

“So far Bangladesh has taken several necessary and time oriented steps for disaster risk reduction” he says, “like National Sustainable Development Strategy, Bangladesh Perspective Plan 2010-2021, also the Sixth Five Year Plan 2011-2015. The government made a division “Disaster Management and Relief Division” upgrading the bureau of disaster management and relief. Department for Disaster Management was established through the Disaster Management Act 2012. Although several administrative reforms have been made but still we have many rooms to improve.”

Over population with rapid uncontrolled growth of unplanned urbanization, infraction of building codes are very common in large cities like Dhaka, Chittagong, and Sylhet. All this increases the possibility of drastic loss and damages by earthquake and can cause a devastating impact on lives and assets. An earthquake specialists gave warning and expressed deep concern due to higher potential of earthquake threat in Bangladesh. Earthquake Disaster Risk Index ranked Dhaka among the 20 cities most vulnerable to earthquake in the world.

“It is not possible to reconstruct the risky and vulnerable buildings in Dhaka and other earthquake prone cities within a short time, emphasised Sariful Islam, “and financial factor for reconstruction is a major issue in such case.”

He asks, “Is it fine if we wait until a devastating earthquake will happen and cause severe loss of human lives and assets? Are we ready to afford the extreme damage and costs because of such disaster? The only answer is, no. So, it is high time the government takes a long view and initiative to reconstruct the risky buildings across the country. The government can make zones on a priority basis and start rebuilding the most risky and vulnerable buildings. Certainly, it needs a huge investment but government must compel the violators of building codes to reconstruct accordingly and provide subsidy through a standard categorisation. This mega initiative may be a long row to hoe but it can be materialized by combined efforts of masses of people, government, development partners and other potential stakeholders.”

The government is working to have 65,000 volunteers across the country as a part of a combating disaster risk initiative who will respond rapidly in any natural disasters. These volunteers will surely be a resource if the volunteers remain active at the root level. But lack of regular training, inadequate knowledge of using rescue equipment, improper monitoring on capacity building and less activeness at grassroots level have made the whole voluntary rescue system less efficient than it might be expected. Increasing the number of volunteers will not strengthen the voluntary rescue system rather we need the enhancing of skills and capacity of the volunteers.

Use of ICT can make a remarkable difference in practice. Mobile phone-based early warning and forecasting services for floods and other natural disasters is one of the significant initiatives by the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programed. Introducing digital data bank for disaster issues and using technology in comprehensive disaster management system can be a fruitful initiative.

The government must create a strong implementation and monitoring cell for ensuring sustainability of the taken initiatives. Regular mobile courts can be introduced to check and maintain administrative policies, laws and regulations at all levels that will make the whole system more accountable, transparent, effective and sustainable.

“It has been seen that we are more focused on managing disaster rather than fixing the underlying factors of disaster risk,” he notes, “like climate change, unplanned urbanization, violation of existing laws and policies, population growth, migration, poverty etc. It is noteworthy to mention that development strategies must incorporate the concerned dimensions that have inextricable linkage with disaster. Thus, cohesion among different ministries, development partners, civil societies, NGOs, media is must to incorporate and achieve the sustainable development agendas.”

UN Secretary General says, development cannot be sustainable if the disaster risk reduction approach is not fully integrated into development planning and investments, development investment that does not consider disaster risk will lead to the accumulation of more risk. Now, after the Sendai declaration, we need to tailor our policy framework and development strategies that will make most suitable adjustment with Sendai Framework. Bangladesh must strengthen the total disaster risk reduction and resilience strategies to build a national bulwark for ensuring the sustainable development agendas.

*
RHSTEP – Reproductive Health Services Training and Education Program

Categories: Asia, Ecology and Environment
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