Tropical cyclones from the Bay of Bengal accompanied by storm surges are one of the major hazards in Bangladesh. They occur mainly in April/May and October/November.
According to the Coastal Zone policy (2005) of the Government of Bangladesh, 19 districts, out of a total of 64, covering a total of 147 upazilas (sub-districts), are in the "coastal zone".Cyclones and storm surges are a continuous threat for the coastal population.
Bangladesh has a long history of facing cyclones in the month of November. Lives, livelihoods, assets, livestock and properties are lost by these cyclones.
On November 12, 1970, a super cyclone caused the death of about 500,000 in Bangladesh coastline.
On November 24, 1974, a cyclone struck the coastal areas near Cox's Bazar and Chittagong, including the offshore islands. Casualty: 200 people, 1000 cattle.
On November 05, 1983: A cyclone hit Chittagong and Barishal region. Casualty: 300 fishermen with 50 boats missing. 2,000 houses destroyed.
On November 19-22, 1998, a cyclonic storm, with wind speeds up to 90 km/hour, and a storm surge of 1.22 to 2.44 meters hit coastal islands.
On November 15, 2007 Sidr, a cyclone, hit the coastal area of the country, affecting approximately 8.5 million women, men and children and killing about 4,000 persons. One and a half million homes were partially or completely destroyed and around 1.2 million livestock were killed and 2.4 million acres of crops were ruined. The overall economic losses amounted US$1.7 billion.
Over the last three decades, Bangladesh has invested in disaster management and now gained considerable ability to manage cyclones. However, the people of hazardous coastal areas, particularly the poor, still live with extreme uncertainties, risk and multifarious vulnerabilities.
Considering the history of cyclones in the month of November, current capacity and vulnerability of Bangladesh to the cyclones, the following suggestions are made:
Emergency management: An effective emergency management encompasses those measures taken before a disaster event which are aimed at minimising loss of life, interference of critical services, and harm when the disaster occurs. Prior to any cyclone situation, a contingency plan provides the basis for identifying and further developing response capacity. It is important to prepare or review contingency plan in all the administrative layers of coastal area with the provision of necessary resources and its effective management.
Emergency medical facilities: Strengthen the emergency medical facilities across the vulnerable locations of the coastal belt to treat fatalities in time is an area of intervention.
Capacity building: The respective authorities at different levels should strengthen capacity building initiatives of local government and communities at risk. A well-organised and coordinated effort is needed to further strengthen local-level planning, decision making process and the allocation of resource to local government for cyclone-proof programme in the vulnerable location. Proper resources from central government and other sources should be ensured by authorities and policy makers.
Developing cyclone data base: Mainstreaming Cyclone Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in existing development works and future initiatives of various government ministries/departments and Non-Government organisations (NGOs) of the country is very much important. Concerned authorities should develop cyclone data base which is very important to carry out detailed study and planning.
Incorporating traditional community coping practices: The Government authorities and NGOs need to redesign their development programmes with the active participation of the most vulnerable communities to ensure that they maximise cyclone mitigation potential and incorporate traditional community coping practices which are fit technically, environmentally, socially and economically.
Green belt: The current embankments, dams, dikes and other infrastructures have to be critically reviewed. An effective strong green belt should be developed with trees and embankment considering present and future vulnerabilities and risks.
Cyclone risk reduction activities: Some targeted but tested cyclone risk reduction activities both structural (embankments, polders, river protection, cyclone shelters, housing scheme,roads, water and sanitation facilities) and non-structural (improving awareness & networks, early warning dissemination, coordination mechanism etc.) could be undertaken/reinforced in consultation with community at risk and relevant experts/organisations.
Private sector: The private sector could be involved in structural measures with appropriate facilitation and accountability mechanism from Government authorities.
Embankments/dykes repair: Prompt actions are needed by respective authorities and duty bearers to make new protections and to complete ongoing repair work of embankments/ dykes in vulnerable spots of coastal region in conjunction with community and local governments as soon as possible.
Monitoring and supervision: Appropriate allocation, rapid flow of fund and effective monitoring and supervision of these kinds of urgent activities should be ensured by authorities responsible at different layers. Role of local governments and communities at the different stages of the work needs to be emphasised, supported and ensured by authorities.
Coping strategies: Impact minimising strategies such as the use of cropping patterns which minimise loss and the setting up of cyclone-smart income-generating activities need to be promoted. Crop type and pattern should be selected according to susceptibility of cyclone and salinity; urgent effort should be given by concerned agencies to find new variety of species which have cyclone and salt resistance.
Community involvement: Any livelihood initiative in the cyclone areas has to take into consideration cyclone and relevant aspects, so that the initiative yields some amount of benefit to the target people. Involvement of the community and enlisting their inputs in the any kind of programme design and relevant issues affecting their lives and livelihood will make the intervention process easier and impact-bearing.
Enhancing resilience to cyclones in coastal areas is essential for protecting lives, livelihoods, crops, infrastructures, assets and properties in Bangladesh.
Farid Hasan Ahmed is a Development Lawyer.
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