Bangladesh has a long history of natural disasters, with over 219 natural disasters taking place between 1980 and 2008, causing over US$16 billion in total damage. In this first installment of a three part series of special reports, we will look at Bangladesh’s policies and legal framework which have been put in place in the last five years for managing disasters. After the current administration came to power in 2009, the government’s bureau of disaster management and relief was for the first time upgraded into a division, the Disaster Management and Relief Division (DMRD).
The DDM has the mandate to implement the objectives of DMA 2012 by reducing the overall vulnerability from different impacts of disaster by undertaking risk reduction activities; conducting humanitarian assistance programs efficiently to enhance the capacity of poor and disadvantaged as well as strengthening and coordinating programmes undertaken by various government and non-government organizations related to disaster risk reduction and emergency response. With the advent of DMA 2012, and as part of the reorganizations process in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, the Directorate of Relief and Rehabilitation has been transformed into the Department of Disaster Management with a more robust and wider role focusing on comprehensive disaster management, and has been responsible for implementation of the national disaster management related policies and plans at all levels. According to the National Plan for Disaster Management 2010-15, the vision of the government is to reduce the risk of people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, from the effects of natural, environmental and human induced hazards, to a manageable and acceptable humanitarian level, and to have in place an efficient emergency response system capable of handling large scale disasters.
The priorities of the National Plan for Disaster Management (NPDM) 2010-2015 endorsed by the National Disaster Management Council in 2010 have been embedded in all the government high level policy and operation documents.
The Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) is a product of this change in approach. The first phase (CDMP 1) laid the foundations for institutionalizing a risk reduction framework and Phase II (CDMP II) is designed to further expand this pioneering approach.
CDMP II aims to further reduce Bangladesh's vulnerability to adverse natural and anthropogenic hazards and extreme events, including the devastating potential impacts of climate change. CDMP II (2010-2014) is a vertical and horizontal expansion of its Phase I activities designed based on the achievements, lessons learned and the strong foundation laid during CDMP I by continuing the processes initiated, deriving actions from the lessons learned, utilizing knowledge resources generated and knowledge products published.
CDMP II offers an outstanding opportunity to improve linkages with, and synergies between, disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change. The Disaster Management Act (DMA) 2012 was approved by the Parliament on September 2012 after a long collective effort by the government and development and civil society actors to create a legislative tool under which disaster and emergency management will be undertaken. The DMA will help in promoting a comprehensive disaster management programme upholding the all-hazard, all-risk and all-sector approach where risk reduction as a core element of disaster management has equal emphasis with emergency response management with greater focus on equitable and sustainable development. The draft National Disaster Management Policy provides that the Disaster Management Vision of the Government of Bangladesh is to reduce the risk of people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, from the effects of natural, environmental and human induced hazards, to a manageable and acceptable humanitarian level, and to have in place an efficient emergency response system capable of handling large scale disasters. The Mission is to bring a paradigm shift in disaster management from conventional response and relief practice to a more comprehensive risk reduction culture. Recently, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, with the assistance of experts and stakeholders, redrafted the National Disaster Management Policy, which made provision to mainstream disaster risk reduction into public-private partnership.
Although Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to natural hazards, it also has a long history of coping with and managing major disasters. In recent years, Bangladesh has been increasingly recognised as a leader in adopting a more holistic approach to risk reduction.
Visiting SAARC agriculture ministers highly appreciated Bangladesh's tremendous success in socioeconomic field under the visionary and dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh’s export has grown by 9 percent in the first three quarters of the ongoing 2015-16 fiscal over the corresponding period in the last fiscal.
The country's GDP (gross domestic product) growth registered a record rise, crossing 7.0 percent mark for the first time.
Aimed at making further effective the provision of alternate dispute resolution (ADR), the government has taken initiative to bring necessary changes in the Code of Civil Procedure -1908. The government has allocated Tk 13 crore to acquire land for construction of Sabrang exclusive tourist zone in Teknaf near sea-beach town of Cox’s Bazar, said official sources. Bangladesh Bridge Authority has proposed to build two underground metros in Dhaka within 2021 in a bid to ease traffic congestions in the capital. By subscribing to our newsletter service, you will stay updated with the latest news from us.
Science, Technology and Medicine open access publisher.Publish, read and share novel research. Disaster Management Discourse in Bangladesh: A Shift from Post-Event Response to the Preparedness and Mitigation Approach Through Institutional PartnershipsC. Raising the level of expertise of the Disaster Management SystemsCapacity-buildingMDMR and Implementing Agency1. Recognizing the need for vulnerability reduction for effective disaster management, the failures of a top-down management approach have become evident. This organization, directly supported by DMB and DRR, remains the pivot and is destined to channel and coordinate all communications and activities between and among all the partners in the loop. The country has had a long experience of severe cyclonic events, floods, land-slides, arsenic, tornadoes and threats of earthquakes.
In the other two, we look at Bangladesh’s disaster preparedness and response to climate change issues. Subsequently, disaster management and relief got its own full-fledged ministry, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
It is responsible for executing directions, recommendations by the government in connection with disaster management as well as the national disaster management principles and planning.
Disaster management would involve the management of both risks and consequences of disasters that would include prevention emergency response and post-disaster recovery. Community involvement for preparedness programmes for protecting lives and properties would be a major focus. Non-structural mitigation measures such as community disaster preparedness training advocacy and public awareness must be given a high priority; this would require an integration of structural mitigation with non-structural measures. The current’s government’s ‘Vision 2021’ sets‘Effective Disaster Management’ as one of the sub-goals and puts emphasis on seasonal flood and drought mitigation, establishing of an effective early warning and evacuation mechanism, and development of a natural disaster insurance scheme to compensate thephysical and property damage. It has two goals: to facilitate a paradigm shift in disaster management in Bangladesh away from relief and rehabilitation towards risk reduction, and to foster a holistic, multi-hazard approach to reducing the nation’s risks and vulnerabilities to human-induced and natural hazards. CDMP’s activities include knowledge building and policy support with and through the government, as well as community level interventions to reach the most vulnerable section of the population. The approach of CDMP II is to channel support through government and development partners, civil society and NGOs into a people-oriented disaster management and risk reduction partnership. However, successive governments did not take any action in this regard and the SOD continued as merely a government approved policy document.
It has placed mandatory obligations and responsibilities on ministries and committees, and ensures transparency and accountability in the overall disaster management system.
The Overall Objective is to strengthen the capacity of the Bangladesh disaster management system to reduce unacceptable risk and improve response and recovery management at all levels.
The policy has made references to relevant sectoral policies, operational guidelines and procedures.
The government and the people have a wealth of experience in preparing for, and responding to, disaster events. In line with the global shift in thinking on approaches to disasters, the current government is working relentlessly to reduce the risk of people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, from the effects of natural, environmental and human induced hazards, to a manageable and acceptable humanitarian level. Organizational structure and institutional arrangements for disaster management at the national level and field level3.2. The ministry was renamed the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR) in 1993 and then again renamed the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management (MoFDM) in 2002.
This coordinated process, particularly during non-crisis periods, is expected to result in the shift of focus from post-disaster to pre-disaster risk management. Following enactment of the Disaster Management Act (DMA) 2012, the government set up the Department for Disaster Management (DDM). The Bangladesh Perspective Plan 2010-2021, Sixth Five Year Plan 2011-2015 and National Sustainable Development Strategy (NSDS) have provisions and emphasis to implement NPDM. Communities are now integrating disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures and are more resilient. That partnership will promote cooperation, provide coordination, rank priority programmes and projects, and allocate resources to disaster management activities, risk reduction activities and climate change adaptation activities in Bangladesh. The linkages are clearly expressed in many of the activities outlined in the operational outcomes of the project design, as well as through strengthened institutional capacities. Clear recognition must go to the government for its long history of work in response and preparedness for responding to natural disasters.
It is therefore apt that the UNDP recently commented that Bangladesh has become a global leader in its institutional framework for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, with a number of core government policies and programmes incorporating risk reduction from their earliest stages. New MDMR allocation of business and organogram reflecting broader responsibilities in disaster risk management3. A better understanding of disasters and losses also brings to light the fact that the increased occurrence of disasters and disaster-related loss has been due to the exponential increase in the occurrence of small- and medium-scale disasters.
After the formation a new government in 2008, this name of this ministry went back to its previous title as the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR).The primary function associated with disaster management is outlined in the government’s Rules of Business which are undertaken by the DMB and the DRR.
Reducing vulnerability via these structural measures has been quite effective in coastal Bangladesh. However, the MoDMR must ensure the transparency of its own and all other agencies involved in developing the partnership for disaster management. The local level (Upazila) development planning proforma is being revised by the Local Government Division where inputs provided by Ministry of Disaster Management & Relief to make it more inclusive for disaster risk reduction.
That pioneering phase laid the foundations for institutionalising the risk reduction approaches and frameworks developed through pilot testing. The SOD has been revised with the avowed objective of making the concerned persons understand and perform their duties and responsibilities regarding disaster management at all levels. Disaster Management Bureau, Disaster Management and Relief Division, Ministry of Food and Disaster Management, 2010. Developments in the Institutional Framework: Introduction to the Comprehensive Disaster Management Plan (CDMP)Table 1. IntroductionThe discourse of disaster management has undergone significant changes in recent decades and their effects have been profoundly felt in the developing world, particularly in terms of reduction in the loss of human lives.
As a result, numerous scholars and stakeholders feel that it is important to adopt a new strategy that directly involves vulnerable people in the planning and implementation of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery measures. The Rules of Business have been revised to reflect the current MoDMR approach of comprehensive, community-based vulnerability reduction and risk management. There is clear evidence that these embankments along the coastal areas provided an effective buffer during the storm surge associated with Cyclone Sidr. Public disclosure and documentation should be mandatory for all the stakeholders and must be published by this pivotal agency on a regular basis. CDMP II aims to institutionalise the adoption of risk reduction approaches, not just in its host Ministry of Food and Disaster Management, but more broadly across thirteen key ministries and agencies. In this chapter, we concentrate on the evolution of disaster management approaches in Bangladesh and the method of their implementation by mobilizing institutions as a case in the developing world. This bottom-up approach has received wide acceptance because it considers communities as the best judges of their own vulnerability and capable of making the best decisions regarding their well-being.
The result is that though there has been a declining trend in loss of lives and property, particularly from cyclone disasters, flood damage has tended to rise because of the large spatial extent of floods, their increased frequency and the expanding economy.Government documents and the NGO literature indicate that there is a wide recognition that effective disaster response at the local level is not possible by government agencies alone and that the cost of management needs to be shared by all stakeholders. Lives were saved, and damages and property losses were much lower where embankment structures had been properly maintained. This provides a detailed institutional framework for disaster risk reduction and emergency management.
The geographical location of Bangladesh in South Asia, at the confluence of three large river systems – the Brahmaputra, the Ganges, and the Meghna – and north of the Bay of Bengal, renders it one of the most vulnerable places to floods and cyclones. The search for the newer approach led to the formulation of the Community-Based Disaster Management (CBDM) strategy.The aim of CBDM is to reduce vulnerabilities and to strengthen people’s capacity to deal with hazards and cope with disasters. Still, the major lacuna in the institutional framework continues to be a lack of functioning partnerships among the stakeholders.
It outlines detailed roles and the responsibilities of ministries, divisions, departments, various committees at different levels, and other organisations involved in disaster risk reduction and emergency management. A thorough assessment of a community’s exposure to hazards and an analysis of their specific vulnerabilities and capacities is the basis for activities, projects and programs that can reduce disaster risks.

The massive flood of July 2004 showed that there were no partnerships functioning and there was little coordination.
More than 90% of our survey respondents observed that coastal embankments had saved their lives and property from Cyclone Sidr. Each of the DDMC in the risk-prone areas can be equipped with a Geographic Information System (GIS) Cell as a planning tool for managing development and disaster reduction activities. Climate models have revealed that the effects of climate change are not only affecting individual countries, but resulting in increased climate variations at regional levels [4]. Review of the development project appraisal processes and integration of disaster risk management3. Because a community is involved in the whole process, their real and felt needs, as well as their inherent resources, are considered. The Local Consultative Group (LCG) concluded that massive shortcomings existed in the forecasting, preparedness and coordinated response to the crisis [22]. They also registered that coastal plantations were another major living structural feature that reduced the velocity of the wind and the speed of tidal surges along with the cyclone and, in turn, saved their lives and properties. Large-scale training of staff at all levels, including the stakeholders, particularly from the media, NGOs and private sector, in team and motivational works and in how to prevent disasters; for the purpose, a Disaster Management Training Cell can be established at the DMB. Bangladesh, as part of South Asia, is likely to experience more variations in climate regimes, as well as more extreme weather events.Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world, except city states, with more than 1,000 people per sq km [5]. Therefore, there is a greater likelihood that problems will be addressed with appropriate interventions.
As a result, the NGOs conducted relief and rehabilitation efforts largely without government directives and coordination. Agriculture, which provides a quarter of the gross domestic product (GDP), depends largely on timely monsoon rainfall and regularity in seasonal fluctuations. Initially, the government appeared confident to deal with the post-disaster recovery singlehandedly.
ConclusionsThe findings of our study reveal that, officially and legislatively, the government of Bangladesh in recent years has taken a comprehensive and integrated approach to disaster management.
It is anticipated that the local community should be able to gain directly from improved disaster risk management. When things were getting worse, it made a flash appeal on 17 August 2004 through the UNDP, Dhaka, for international assistance.
The cyclone of 1970, in the coastal areas of what was then East Pakistan, alone claimed over half a million lives. This in turn will contribute to a progression toward safer conditions and to the improved security of livelihoods and sustainable development. Another report argues about the handling of 1998 floods, indicating that “limited evidence of government coordination was found in the recovery phase” [23]. However, in the absence of stable and transparent institutions, this strong institutional partnership approach remains largely on paper. Again, the 1991 and 2007 cyclones caused the loss of about 149,000 and 3,406 people respectively.
This underlines the point that the local community is not only the primary actor but also the beneficiary of the risk reduction and development process [21].The implementation of CBDM requires consideration of many essential features.
Save the Children (USA) also proclaimed that “there was a general lack of coordination among actors” [24]. Individual stakeholders continue to make significant contributions, but synergy and multiplier effects are still missing. In recent years, the frequency of extreme floods has increased, as has the corresponding economic loss. Following Yodmani (2001), [21], the primary ones could be identified as: The local community has a central role in long-term and short-term disaster management and therefore the focus of attention in disaster management must be on the local community. In the wake of the latest cyclone, Sidr in 2007, BBC reported, “Plenty of agencies, but not enough aid - too little, too late,” and further quoted a professional working in an affected area, “The reason why these people are not receiving enough help is because there is no coordination between the government and aid agencies” [25].
Our analysis shows that no, or only a very limited, culture of partnership in disaster management has yet been established. The flood in July 2004 was the most devastating – with an economic loss of about US $2.2 billion [5]. Disaster risk or vulnerability reduction is the foundation of CBDM; the primary content of disaster management activities revolves around reducing vulnerable conditions and the root causes of vulnerability. Divisive partisan politics and the lack of good governance prevent partnerships among stakeholders. In terms of GDP, this loss was less than what the world’s poorest countries faced during the 1985–99 disasters – a loss of 13.4% of combined GDP [10]. The primary strategy for vulnerability reduction is by increasing a community’s capacities and their resources, and by improving and strengthening coping strategies. Southkhali village in Shoronkhola upazila of Bagerhat district was one the worst hit areas in Sidr. Therefore, in the following section we propose a partnership framework that outlines new roles and responsibilities for major players.
Disaster management must also establish linkages to the development process as disasters are viewed as unmanaged development risks and unresolved problems of the development process. During a visit immediately after the event to the area, the Indian foreign minister pledged his country’s intention to build all the houses in this and the surrounding villages.
Implementation of the framework could lead to partnership in disaster management in Bangladesh. CBDM should lead to a general improvement of the quality of life of the vast majority of the poor people and of the natural environment. From then onwards, nominal government initiative was taken to give shelters to the affected people in this area, and a virtual official ban was put into effect on others, including NGOs and aid agencies, to build houses for the affected people. Government agencies, NGOs and policymakers need to understand the perspectives of local communities, the impacts of floods, and the levels of vulnerability to improve information, knowledge, resource support and services. Traditionally, the disaster management approach in the country has been to respond to disaster in the aftermath of the events. The pledged Indian support did not come in due time and even 100 days after the event people in this area were forced to live under the sky [26]. For this, there is a need for more “action research” involving communities and scientists from different disciplines and greater awareness about the integration of floods, cyclones and other natural disasters and climatic events into the development process among key actors, particularly, government agencies.Disaster management is a nationwide affair, involving each and every organization and citizen of the country.
Nonetheless, the ever-increasing human and economic costs have raised serious questions about such approaches. Priority was accorded to focus on community-level preparedness, response, recovery and rehabilitation. As community is a key resource in disaster risk reduction, their role and interests must be recognized. The government of any country cannot do it alone because of the resource constraints as well as the wide scope of the tasks involved.
Also, flood-disaster management has relied heavily on structural engineering and post-flood relief operations. Programs to train people living in disaster-prone areas were emphasized to improve their capability to cope with natural disasters.
The community is the key actor as well as the primary beneficiary of disaster risk reduction. Empirical Investigation of Cyclone Sidr Victims at the Local Level: Vulnerability of the Poor It is worth noting that the recent initiatives on community-based disaster risk management became subject to stern criticisms because of their general inadequacy in addressing the vulnerability of the poor to natural hazards and socioeconomic shocks. Therefore, a broad-based partnership involving all the stakeholders is a desirable and realistic approach to realizing the full potential at all stages of disaster management, namely, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery [31]. Overall, such a post-facto approach has failed to effectively deal with the problems of disaster loss.In recent years, there has been a shift to recognize the critical roles of non-structural measures as well as pre-disaster mitigation and preparedness. The Corporate Plan emphasized a series of broad-based strategies: First, disaster management involved the management of both risks and consequences of disasters, which included prevention, emergency response and post-disaster recovery. Within the community, priority attention is given to the conditions of the most vulnerable, as well as to their mobilization in the disaster risk reduction. CBDM programs that aim at prevention and mitigation are few in low- and middle-income countries like Bangladesh and they are poorly funded and insignificant when compared to the financial capital spent by donors and development banks on humanitarian assistance, relief and post-disaster reconstruction. Experience that demonstrates the value of partnership in managing disasters is grounded in the mutual recognition of many different ideas and interests.
Second, community involvement was a major focus for preparedness programs to protect lives and properties.
The community must directly participate in the whole process of disaster risk management -- from situational analysis to planning and to implementation.
Another weakness of such initiatives was that they were often taken up in the formal sector of the economy, and therein bypassed the poor and the most vulnerable sections of society.
The approach, involving multi-modal communication and interaction, proposes to integrate the activities of different stakeholders into a functional partnership framework. CBDM brings together the multitude of community stakeholders for disaster risk reduction, as well as to expand their resource base.
86) points out, “in the year or so between the occurrence of a disaster and approved national reconstruction plans, many vulnerable communities revert to coping with risk, often in the same or worse conditions than before the disaster actually struck” [27]. Since community members are the direct and most seriously affected victims, effective and sustainable partnership requires a change from a partnership approach based on equality to a focus on the community [16]. The local community-level institutions link up with the intermediate and national levels and even up to the international level to address the complexity of vulnerability issues. Therefore, in the current paradigm of risk management approaches, there is more room than ever before for addressing the issues of risk reduction for the poor. This is also consonant with the paradigm shift in mainstream development practice, which is now characterized by a focus on good governance, accountability and greater emphasis on bottom-up approaches [21]. There has been only very limited analysis of the shifting approaches and of how institutions at different levels are presently functioning in Bangladesh.
Under the sub-program of Partnership Development, the government actively sought to achieve a multi-agency approach that encompassed the institutions of the government, NGOs and private sector in a collaborative strategy for the alleviation of disaster-induced poverty.
The CBDM is an involving and dynamic framework, and therefore its implementation must be monitored, evaluated and adapted to incorporate newer elements.
This enhanced coordination and information-sharing among the various actors and thus maximized the efficacy of resource use for effective risk reduction. Bangladesh has experienced several catastrophic environmental disasters during the last two decades; among these events, the April 1991 [28] and November 2007 major cyclones were the most catastrophic in terms of both physical and human dimensions [29]. Under the Community Empowerment sub-program, the government planned to further consolidate the empowerment process by expanding the program and by realizing community capacity-building through awareness and skill development and by expanding disaster management studies within the school system and staff training academies.Besides these, disaster risk reduction was incorporated as a component into the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) of Bangladesh as Annex-9 of Disaster Vulnerability and Risk Management [14].
The sharing of experiences, methodologies and tools by communities and CBDM practitioners continues to enrich practice.5. Cyclone Sidr struck the coast of Bangladesh on 15 November 2007 and was the most powerful mega-cyclone to impact Bangladesh since 1991.
The preparation of the PRSP, funded by the World Bank, acknowledged a holistic approach to disaster management.4. However, the death toll (officially, 3,406 lives were lost) caused by Cyclone Sidr was significantly lower than comparable cyclones in previous years due to the improved warning system and evacuation. Shift from relief and response to disaster risk managementIn the last few decades, disasters have typically been viewed by the public institutions as numerous individual extreme events, and the responses included top-down-oriented government policies and efforts by local and international relief agencies that did not take into simultaneous account the social and economic implications and causes of these events.
As is evident from the institutional structure explained above, Bangladesh has developed quite an elaborate framework and disaster preparedness and response mechanism. Nonetheless, the damage to crops and infrastructure was considerable across 30 districts, 200 upazilas and 1,950 unions.
With the significant advancement in the understanding of the natural processes that underlie the hazardous events, a more technocratic paradigm came into existence which conceded that the only way to deal with disasters was by the public policy application of geophysical and engineering knowledge and the associated interventions. Moreover, some policy and plan pronouncements in the recent past indicate that the government has begun to adopt an approach to disaster management that includes both risks and consequences.

These approaches treated disasters as exceptional or “abnormal” events, not related to the ongoing social and developmental processes. Some progress has been made in enhancing the disaster management capacities during the last decades. MethodologyOur research examines whether the elaborate institutional mechanisms of disaster management in Bangladesh reflect the partnership of stakeholders. Gradually, with recognition of the fact that these are not “natural events” per se, but directly linked with social structures and their dynamics [20], this structural engineering, technocratic approach shifted to an emphasis on preparedness measures, such as stockpiling of relief goods, preparedness plans and a growing role for relief agencies such as the Red Crescent [21]. Coastal and island people observed that the new, isolated, single-unit settlements were the most severely impacted by the cyclone and storm surge forces. This evolution of public policy approach from “relief and response” to “risk management” has begun to influence the way disaster management programs are planned and financed.
The settlements near the coast and those which were in linear patterns along the coastal embankment suffered the most. Initiatives have been aimed more and more at reducing social and economic vulnerability and at investing in long-term mitigation activities. This type of settlement, which was more susceptible to cyclonic storm surges, was inhabited primarily by the poor of the coastal zones.
To collect the primary data from local communities, we applied a case study approach which employed participatory rural appraisal tools, such as focus group discussions (FGDs), household interviews and key informant interviews, in two coastal communities of Bangladesh severely affected by Cyclone Sidr. The fragmentation of families and the building of new settlements also contributed to high cyclone disaster loss. We analyzed data procured from a total of 162 households distributed across eight villages, which were randomly selected to conduct the interviews and FGDs. The soil of the new settlements was less cohesive, and in most cases, the properties had few or only very small trees. The houses of the linear settlements along the coastal and island embankment were made of straw, bamboo and other locally sourced materials. A random sampling procedure was followed to select households from the complete list of households in the selected villages for interview. Apart from high winds and storm surges, these houses were also vulnerable to breaches of the embankment that occur in major cyclonic storms. Households were proportionately selected according to the size of the villages, and household heads were interviewed.
In our survey, we registered that most of the houses constructed using straw, bamboo, jute stalk, and corrugated iron sheets alongside of the coastal embankment had faced the sea.
Eight FGDs were carried out by administering a semi-structured questionnaire to each village.For policy analysis, we relied chiefly on secondary data, which were supplemented by primary data.
Such positioning of the housing structures also made them more susceptible to severe damage by the cyclones.
Because Bangladesh has experienced numerous devastating cyclones, as well as long-lasting floods that have caused immense suffering to people and damage to properties in recent decades, we relied on secondary data on the relevant disaster response and management policies.
In contrast, houses located in the interior mainland were usually clustered in groups of six or seven houses called Baris in dense tropical forest.
Official documents from the government and donors, study reports from NGOs and other organizations, journal articles, newspaper clippings, TV reports and documentaries, and internet resources from reliable and responsible sources provided additional information for our analysis. To ensure openness in discussing sensitive issues, we used informal discussions with stakeholders at different levels.
Through personal contacts and over the internet we collected reports and documents from government agencies, NGOs, and donors in Bangladesh, such as the Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Centre (BDPC), the Disaster Forum, the Disaster Management Bureau, the Sustainable Development Resource Centre, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Landless families tend to occupy coastal embankments illegally, as there are no public housing or welfare programs in Bangladesh for the landless.
The respondents of our survey asserted that because of easy access to both land areas and the sea, they preferred to live on the embankment despite the well-known risks related to both illegal settlement and tropical cyclones (Figure 2). Shifting approaches in disaster managementIn recent decades, government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local communities in Bangladesh have undertaken various measures to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters, including floods and cyclones, on the people, economy and society. The concept of developing national preparedness, as opposed to post-event response, to disasters like floods and cyclones evolved after the floods of 1988 and the devastating cyclone of 1991.
Cyclone preparedness at the local levelCyclone preparedness programs that have been implemented in recent years in the coastal zones of Bangladesh have involved both non-structural and structural measures.
The main argument behind this shift was that if people were well prepared for frequent disasters they would minimize their impacts, resulting in a reduced need for relief and rehabilitation. Appropriate cyclone preparedness training and enhancement of awareness by campaigns and public education have been major tools for building a well-prepared and cyclone-resilient community.
It was also strongly felt by the public institutions that if disaster preparedness could be integrated in the socio-economic development process at household, community, regional and national levels, it would build the long-term capacity of the community to mitigate risk and vulnerability to disasters [17].
Our field investigation revealed that only 31% of the local community members have received cyclone preparedness training during non-cyclone periods.
The aim of the shift also included changing disaster management approaches and measures from structural engineering interventions to the social dimensions and community partnerships.The stated significant change in emergency and disaster management approaches demanded institutional restructuring in the governance portfolios. Such training was chiefly provided by the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that were locally active (30% of the local community members received training from them); national and local government initiatives in this regard were nominal (only 1% received training from them) (Figure 3). Consequently, the government of Bangladesh, led by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, has undertaken various steps in the form of policy, strategy and programs considering the concept of disaster management through mitigation, preparedness, recovery and rehabilitation.
Among the structural engineering measures, the construction of cyclone shelters and raised mounds (locally known as killa) to provide refuge during the onset of cyclones were the principal ones. The expansion of coastal embankments and reforestation programs to protect settlements and properties from cyclone gusts and storm surges along the coast and estuary channels were among other significant structural measures. Currently, the DMB has focused on risk reduction through community mobilization, capacity-building and linking risk reduction with the socio-economic development of the poor and vulnerable groups and with developing the DMB’s partnership with other government agencies, NGOs and international organizations.Alongside the development thinkers, international development partners (such as UNDP, DFID, Oxfam GB, USAID, Care International, Caritas) and local NGOs which are concerned with, and are experienced in, disaster management in Bangladesh, the government has promoted the approach of capacity-building and disaster preparedness at all levels.
The majority (59%) of the community members took refuge in the designated cyclone shelters or in the masonry buildings of neighbors, friends, and relatives during the onset of Cyclone Sidr. A call for institutional partnerships therefore stemmed from both the government as well as non-governmental and civil society organizations.
A few key policy planners and senior government officials have also favored this new thinking and reflected this through the renaming of the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
In 1993, the Ministry of Disaster Management then established the Disaster Management Bureau (DMB) and the government set up a national council and various committees at national, district, upazila (sub-district) and union (local council) levels, for overall disaster management preparedness [17]. Our field research calculated that there were 34 cyclone shelters for 631,138 people (according to the 2001 population census) in the Burguna Sadar upazila, under Burguna district, implying that each cyclone shelter would need to provide refuge to 18,563 people. The implications of this institutional restructuring were manifold, and evolved through a sequence of placing increasing emphasis on institutional partnership and community-based disaster management (CBDM). In Kalapara upazila, under Patuakhali district, there were 113 cyclone shelters for 202,078 people, implying that each shelter would need to accommodate 1,788 people during the onset of a cyclone.
Our exploration into why a considerable population did not use cyclone shelters during Cyclone Sidr provided a number of explanations. Institutional Restructuring to Reflect a Shift in Disaster ManagementIn order to manage the consequences of natural disasters, formal public policymaking institutions in Bangladesh have formulated a well-developed mechanism (Figure 1) at national and field levels.
All cyclone shelters were being used as civic facilities (such as primary schools or community centers) during the non-cyclonic periods but lacked adequate drinking water supply infrastructure and toilets. A total of 87% of the cyclone shelter users identified low sanitation and inadequate drinking water facilities as major constraints to using these shelters.
The common missions of these bodies have been to provide policy and management guidance and the macro-coordination of activities, particularly relief and rehabilitation.Presently, the lead actor in disaster management is the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MoDMR) until 2002. They also opined that low physical capacity (79%) and difficulty in maintaining privacy (47%) were other major problems in using the shelters (Table 2).
It has the role of inter-ministerial planning of disaster management and coordination and of responding in the event of a disaster. The poor dispersion of cyclone shelters and the lack of road access were other major concerns about the cyclone shelters.
Under the MoDMR, there are two line agencies, the Disaster Management Bureau (DMB) and the Directorate of Relief and Rehabilitation (DRR). The degree of satisfaction about the cyclone shelters was very low among the local community members (only 6% were satisfied).
The DMB is a small professional unit at the national level that performs specialist functions, working with district and upazila (sub-district) administrations and line ministries under the overall guidance of the IMDMCC.
The examination of the use pattern of cyclone shelters at the local level revealed that although cyclone shelters saved many lives during Cyclone Sidr, many local people opted not to use them or they were simply unavailable in some localities. It is a catalyst for planning, for arranging public education, and for organizing the systematic training of government officers and other personnel from the national down to the union (local council) or community level.
Clearly, these cyclone preparedness and mitigation measures are testimony of institutional partnerships at various levels of governance and public services.
Among all the other ministries, the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) plays a vital role in flood management. It is involved in the planning of water resources, including planning for water-related natural disasters such as cyclone protection, flood proofing, riverbank erosion control and drought management, although the mitigation of disasters remains beyond their mandate.
The Flood Forecasting and Warning Center (FFWC), under the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) of the MoWR, plays an important role in providing early warning about impending floods to the agencies involved.In the areas of both cyclone and flood hazards, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BRCS) and various donor agencies play important roles. The Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP) was established in 1972 following the devastating cyclone of 1970, under an agreement between the BRCS and the government of Bangladesh, with an aim to undertake effective cyclone preparedness measures in the coastal areas. Thus, as opposed to the structural measures against floods (like dams, river embankments, and flood control and drainage projects) and riverbank erosion control projects (like the building of hard points, canalization and revetment), the recent policies and plans have recognized the importance of participatory planning that focuses on sustaining people’s livelihoods.At the field level (Figure 1), disaster management and related mechanisms start with the district administrations covering all 64 districts of Bangladesh.
The District Disaster Management Committee (DDMC) is chaired by the deputy commissioner, the chief civil administrator of the district. The members of the committee include departmental officers and NGO, BRCS and CPP and women’s representatives. Likewise, below the district level, there are the upazila, union and village tiers of the disaster management committees.
These local-level committees include representatives from almost all relevant interest groups in society (Figure 1). Increasing roles and responsibilities of NGOsThe Disaster Management Bureau (DMB) has been assigned the role of coordinating the activities of NGOs. NGOs and CBOs are actively involved, among others, in disaster management, micro-credits, family planning, and human rights protection.
As a matter of fact, the advent of NGO activities in Bangladesh owes its origin to the rehabilitation works immediately after the devastating war of independence in 1971. Currently, about a quarter of foreign assistance to Bangladesh is channeled through the NGOs. Therefore, their contributions, particularly to the social service sector and the mobilization of the poor, are quite prominent. NGOs like the Grameen Bank and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) have extended their development and disaster management programs at the international level as well.NGOs such as CARE-Bangladesh, OXFAM-Bangladesh, Action Aid, Intermediate Technology Development Group-Bangladesh, Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Center (BDPC) and Disaster Forum are particularly involved in various pre-, during and post-disaster activities.
Pre-disaster activities include advocacy, public education campaigns and training programs for personnel involved in disaster management from the national down to the union or local community level. It aimed “to reduce the level of community vulnerability to natural and human-induced hazards and risks to manageable and humanitarian levels.” This program was supposed to be implemented through a “program-based approach” that encompassed all aspects of risk management. The approach comprehended a transition from a single agency response and relief system to a holistic strategy involving the entire development planning process of the government. CDMP Phase II was launched in 2010 to institutionalize the adoption of risk reduction approaches, and to channel support through government and velopment partners, civil society and NGOs into a people-oriented disaster management and risk reduction partnership.

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