Comprehensive Disaster Management: The Road to Resilience

Md. Abdul Quayyum
Thursday, December 31st, 2015

Set at the mouth of three great rivers that flow through the low-lying land to pour their waters into the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is a land of 144,000 square kilometres where more than 160 million people crammed into. Because of its special geographical feature, Bangladesh is afflicted by a multitude of natural hazards including flood, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, tsunamis, drought, earthquakes, riverbank erosion, landslides, salinity intrusion and arsenic contamination. To make matters worse,  experts say that in future, floods, cyclones and other weather-related hazards are likely to become more severe and frequent in Bangladesh due to the global warming. The impacts of these disasters are exacerbated by the fact that almost one third of the nation’s population lives below the poverty line and has little capacity to adapt.


Nevertheless, Bangladesh has proven to be remarkably resilient, developing well beyond initial expectations, and has made very good progress with poverty reduction. Gross National Income (GNI) per capita has grown from around US$100 in 1972 to US$1,314 in 2015, and the country crossed the World Bank threshold for the lower-middle-income group in 2015.


Despite Bangladesh’s noteworthy development achievements, many Asian countries have done much better since 1980 and Bangladesh still remains one of Asia’s poorest countries.  One of the main reasons for that is Bangladesh being at the tail-end of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta renders it especially vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. The Global Climate Risk Index 2010, covering the period 1990 – 2008, assesses Bangladesh as the most vulnerable country to extreme climate events; it estimates that, on an average, 8,241 people died each year in Bangladesh while the cost of damage was US $ 1,189 million per year and loss of GDP was 1.8% during the period. According to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the country currently loses 1.5% of its GDP due to increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters as a result of climate change.


Bangladesh was affected by 228 weather-related hazards between 1994 and 2013. Cyclone Sidr in 2007, resulted in damages of US$1.7 billion, or 2.6 percent of GDP. About half the losses were in the housing sector, followed by agriculture and infrastructure. Cyclone Aila in 2009 affected 3.9m people with an estimated damage of assets of US$270 million. Seasonal droughts in Bangladesh most commonly affect the northwestern region, which receives lower rainfall than the rest of the country. These droughts have a devastating impact on crops and thereby also affect the food security of subsistence farmers.


While natural disasters are unstoppable, Bangladesh is setting example in disaster risk reduction led by the government, partnered with different development agencies, NGOs and communities.  The country has now become a world leader in disaster preparedness. In 1991, a cyclone in Bangladesh killed more than 140,000 people. In 2007, when Cyclone Sidr struck, some 40,000 volunteers with bullhorns and bicycles helped move more than 3m people out of harm’s way. Tens of thousands of lives were saved.


Thanks to strong adaptation and preparedness measures, the death toll from comparable disasters today is much lower in Bangladesh than it was 20 years ago. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon in his remarks at the Third Un World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction said, “Bangladesh sets an example on disaster preparedness and management in the world. Bangladesh imparted disaster preparedness training to 62,000 people at the rural level and keep 25,000 community volunteers on standby to act promptly just after any disaster. This initiative can be followed by other disaster prone countries.”


This paradigm shift in disaster management has been started in 1990s when Bangladesh government has shifted the focus away from the traditional reactive approach which was relief and rehabilitation activities to more proactive approach that included hazard identification and mitigation, community preparedness and integrated response efforts. In 2000, the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) began to explore opportunities to fast track the transition from response and relief to comprehensive risk reduction. This resulted in the design of the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) and its approval in November 2003, with a vision “to reduce the risk of people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, from the effects of natural, environment and human induced hazards to a manageable and acceptable humanitarian level and to have in place an efficient emergency response management system.” The programme precedes the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015 that came out of the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction. The year 2015 marks not only the last year of HFA but also the end of CDMP.


The ultimate goal of the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme is to reduce the nation’s vulnerability to natural hazards by integrating disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation strategies into the development policy and planning of central, regional and local government agencies. The programme comprises two phases. Phase I (2004–2009), a pilot phase, laid the foundations for long-term disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation within seven targeted districts. CDMP-I was implemented by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (the then Ministry of Food and Disaster Management) with financial and technical support from UNDP, DFID, Norway, SIDA and the EU. CDMP-I was designed around 5 strategic focus areas and was comprised of 12 components. The first phase followed an all-hazard, all risk and all sector approach. The different elements of CDMP-I were implemented through strategic, technical and implementation partnership arrangements with more than 100 entities, including many national NGOs. It contributed significantly to the establishment and implementation of a national disaster management legislative framework by starting the drafting of the National Disaster Management Act; mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction; establishing a learning and development network with 22 public training and academic institutions; developing capacity and knowledge of about 30,000 Disaster Management Committee (DMC) members at the local level; identifying risks and vulnerabilities and preparing the risk reduction action plans for 622 vulnerable unions; implementing a total of 562 small scale risk reduction projects through the Local Disaster Risk Reduction Fund which benefitted 600,000 people living in 381 Unions of 11 districts; enhancing earthquake preparedness for Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet city corporations; and establishing disaster management. Phase II (2010–15) builds upon and expands Phase-I achievements by ensuring that the institutionalization of risk reduction and climate change adaptation occurs across all levels of government. In particular the program aimed to mainstream Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) across all key ministries and other non-governmental actors working in Risk Reduction. CDMP-II also incorporated climate change risks, further expanding the holistic approach to disaster risk reduction throughout Bangladesh.


As the prrogramme is going to end on December 31, 2015, here are some major achievements the government has made in disaster management through CDMP:


Disaster risk reduction regulations are now included in different ministries and government departments’ planning and budgeting processes. Vital policies and frameworks were developed, including the Disaster Management Act, Disaster Management Policy (Draft), Revised Standing Order on Disasters (SOD), National Plan on Disaster Management (2010-2015), Cyclone Shelter Constructions, Maintenance and Management Guidelines 2011, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Disaster Management Framework.


The disaster and climate change vulnerability of over 3 million people (half of them are women) of 321 unions under 40 most disaster vulnerable districts have been reduced by 1,865 small and medium scale risk reduction schemes. These are selected from local Risk Reduction Action Plan (RRAP) which is prepared following participatory process like Community Risk Assessment (CRA) and/or Fast Track Risk Assessment (FTRA) in partnership with community and local government. These schemes are funded through Local Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (LDRRF) modalities of CDMP and mostly implemented by Union/Upazila Disaster Management Committees.


Bangladesh has one of the rapidly growing urban populations in the Asia Pacific region and its new and existing urban population is highly vulnerable to the risk posed by earthquakes. CDMP financed ground breaking work to map the seismic vulnerability of nine of Bangladesh’s biggest cities using the latest remote sensing and statistical analyses techniques. For the first time planners and developers in these cities have readily available data to determine the nature and scale of risk across each city and can, thus, specify the appropriate design and construction standards for future development.


The rise of mobile phone uses open up the avenue to introduce pull protocol based early warning system which offers the valuable golden hours to be prepared well ahead of time. CDMP in partnership with Bangladesh Teleltalk Ltd. (state-owned mobile phone company), Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) and Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) introduced Interactive Voice Response (IVR) based (by dialling 10941) early warning system. This has enabled 110 million cell-phone users of the country to have direct access to receive early warnings of approaching hydro-meteorological disasters and to be prepared well ahead of time.


Roughly 80% of Bangladesh is made up of fertile alluvial floodplains. Agriculture is a key economic sector in Bangladesh that accounts for 19.29% of the GDP and 47.5% of the labour force, this sector is highly prone to drought, flood and adverse impact of climate change. CDMP in partnership with FFWC has extended flood forecast lead time from 3 to 5 days, potentially saving the lives, livelihoods and assets of 88 million people living in four river basin areas. This has a potential to reduce 20% of crop loss in case of a severe flooding.


17 universities comprises of both public and private and 11 training institutes including Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre (BPATC) introduced certificate, diploma, honors and masters course in disaster management with support from CDMP. About 700 participants in total enroll to these courses in each course calendar.


CDMP has financed more than 300 individual pieces of research, operational guidelines, training manuals and related knowledge products concerning DRR and CCA. These products have supported the paradigm shift of disaster management practices in the country and contributed to the ongoing professionalization of government officials and NGO workers. CDMP facilitated the establishment of the Department of Disaster Management’s e-library, in order to make this unique body of knowledge more widely available to practitioners both in country and internationally.


CDMP supported Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence in training and development of 26,465 urban community volunteers. These volunteers have successfully took part in search and rescue operation of fire, landslide and building collapse incidents including catastrophic Rana Plaza (April 24, 2013) rescue operation.  CDMP also supported Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) to expand their operation in South-West coast of Bangladesh through training and development of 6,540 volunteers. CPP played the fore front role during tropical storm Mahasen (2013) response that successfully evacuated 1.1 million people to safe shelters. (Source: UNDP Website).


On 24-25 November 2015, a two-day knowledge fair and workshop on disaster risk reduction and climate change action was organized in Dhaka by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief to mark the end of the 10 year long CDMP project. The event was held at a critical juncture of global development discourse – it followed the Sustainable Development Goals Summit that took place in September, and preceded the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) and also the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which was adapted as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, right after the 10-year international disaster risk reduction plan, The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (HFA).


It was the final event in a series of pioneering knowledge fairs on disaster management and climate change held in Bangladesh, with similar events being held earlier in Barisal and Rangpur. The event was aimed at showcasing and validating the outcomes of CDMP; providing a platform for uniting key state and non-state actors of disaster management and climate change in Dhaka; raising public awareness on the issue; and providing opportunities to different organizations working on disaster management to display their talents in a competitive yet enabling and friendly environment.


Mohammed Abdul Qaiyyum the National Project Director, CDMP II, called for joint effort of all the stakeholder groups and mainstreaming of all relevant institutions to win the fight against disaster risk and climate change at the knowledge fair.


Attending the fair as the Guest of Honor, the Deputy Head of Mission of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Henrik Width, highlighted how CDMP has helped thousands of vulnerable lives cope with disaster risks and climate change. He called for the integration of all the forces to face the relevant risks; being proactive; and making societies resilient.


Pauline Tamesis, Country Director of UNDP Bangladesh, in her remarks said “A paradigm shift from disaster relief to disaster risk reduction and resilience is visible, which will lay the foundation for attaining the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”


Reaz Ahmed, Director General, Department of Disaster Management (DDM), Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR), spoke about the huge success of CDMP in last 10 years and stressed about the importance of reconstruction of CDMP in the near-term future for meeting the unmet needs of disaster management and climate change.


On the other hand, the Secretary of MoDMR, Md. Shah Kamal, lauded how Bangladesh has managed to become a role model in disaster management throughout the world. Its long legacy starts from the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) implemented by the Government of Bangladesh in the past.


Disaster and Relief Minister, Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, shed light on the impact made by CDMP in Bangladesh, on the lives of 30 million people who inhabit the coastal areas and both face and bear the risks and damaging effects of cyclones and salinity.


But the road to resilience is not ending here in Bangladesh, as the climate will continue to change and the global temperature will continue to rise, despite the attempt made by the leaders at the COP 21 in Paris.  According to a recent scientific report released by the World Bank report, Bangladesh will be among the most affected countries in South Asia by an expected 2°C rise in the world’s average temperatures in the next decades, with rising sea levels and more extreme heat and more intense cyclones threatening food production, livelihoods, and infrastructure as well as slowing the reduction on poverty. The report cited Bangladesh as one of more “potential impact hotspots” threatened by “extreme river floods, more intense tropical cyclones, rising sea levels and very high temperatures”. Cyclone Sidr exposed 3.45 million households to inundation. A potential 10 year return cyclone in 2050 could expose 9.7 million people to more than 3 meters of inundation affecting agriculture and lives. Depicting life in a not-too-distant future shaped by already present warming trends, the report warns that even 20 to 30 years from now, shifting rain patterns could leave some areas under water and others without enough water for power generation, irrigation or drinking. Johannes Zutt, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Nepal rightly said “Bangladesh faces particularly severe challenges with climate change threatening its impressive progress in overcoming poverty.” (Source: World Bank Website)


A warming climate will contribute to slowing the reduction in poverty. While the lives of everyone in the country will be altered by climate change, the impacts of progressive global warming will fall hardest on the poor. Low crop yields and associated income loss from agriculture will continue the trend toward migration from rural to urban centers.


Continued action, beyond CDMP, is much needed to “Build Back Better.”


Md. Abdul Quayyum, Former Communication Specialist, CDMP-UNDP and Development Communication Expert. E-mail:

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