The United Nations designated October 13 as the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction as part of its commitment that encourages every citizen and government globally to take part in building more disaster-resilient communities and nations. As floods, tidalwaves, cyclones, tornadoes, droughts, etc. are the constant companions of the people of this country, so almost every year natural disasters like floods, tidalwaves, droughts, monsoon storms are happening in Bangladesh.
In fact, Bangladesh is a disaster prone country due to its geographical structure and location on the shores of the Bay of Bengal and for this natural calamities, huge loss of life, loss of crops and loss of resources have taken place in the country so far. In 1970, cyclones and tidalwaves that swept over the southern part of Bangladesh killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The 1988 floods affected about ten million people. In 2007, about 15 million people were affected by floods and river erosion in the country. Crops, houses, cattle, plants - everything is destroyed. The country's agrarian economy collapsed. In 1991, about 1.5 lakh people lost their lives on the coast of Cox's Bazar, Chittagong.
In fact, Bangladesh is a country prone to cyclones, floods, earthquakes and droughts. According to the 2017 Global Climate Change Risk Index, Bangladesh ranks sixth in the world as a climate risk country. Floods and cyclones cause a loss of US$ 3.2 billion or Tk 25,600 crore every year in Bangladesh, which is 2.2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). On the other hand, the 2018 World Risk Report analyzed the risks of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and floods in 172 countries.
It has been verified whether the countries concerned have the capacity to deal with these disasters. In such a situation, the researchers pointed out the need to take necessary preparations to deal with such extreme natural disasters. The report lists the top 15 countries at risk due to natural disasters, with Bangladesh in ninth place and Qatar in the lowest risk of natural disasters.
This risk index takes into account the risk of natural disasters as well as the extent to which the country is prepared to deal with disasters. In that case the situation or building code of the buildings constructed in those countries, the level of poverty line and the plan to deal with the post-disaster situation are considered.
For this reason, despite being prone to natural disasters, many countries are not on the risk list. Such as Japan and Chile, which are constantly at risk of earthquakes but the names of these two countries are outside the top 20 risky countries. In addition, the Netherlands, which has struggled with rising sea levels for hundreds of years, is at 65 on the risk list.
According to another data from 2020, 8 of the 10 countries mostly affected by the disaster are in Asia and the number of deaths due to disasters in the last 20 years is more than 1.2 million. Besides, the loss is US$ 29.6 trillion and Bangladesh is the ninth most disaster-stricken country in the world in the last 20 years.
At this time, 112 million people of Bangladesh have been victims of disaster in any ways. According to the report, the highest number of disasters in the last 20 years occurred in 2002 and that year, 658 million people were infected. In 2015, 430 million people were infected. On an average, 200 million people worldwide are affected by disasters every year and almost 60,000 people died.
However, in the last few decades, Bangladesh has achieved a lot in dealing with natural disasters. A cyclone called 'Gorky' on November 12, 1970 killed about 0.5 million people in the coastal areas of Bangladesh and millions of cattle and crops were washed away. On April 29, 1991, a cyclone that struck at a speed of 250 km per hour killed about 1.38 lakh people and besides this, ten million people became destitute and one million houses were damaged.
On November 15, 2007, Cyclone Sidr killed 3,500 people and the storm destroyed about 9.68 lakh houses and 21 thousand hectares of crops. Cyclone Aila hit southwestern Bangladesh and southeastern India on May 25, 2009. At least three lakh families lost their houses in Aila and about 200 people died The storm has also caused a severe drinking water crisis in the south, which has not yet subsided.
Besides, at least 50 people were killed in Hurricane Mohsen on May 14, 2013, 24 people were killed in Hurricane Roanu on May 21, 2016, 6 people were killed in Hurricane Mora on May 30, 2017, 9 people were killed in Hurricane Fani on May 3, 2019 and Bulbul on November 9, 2019, 24 people were killed in the blast, and the most recent Yaas hit on May 25 was killed very negligible. However, all the storms caused extensive damage to crops and unfinished houses.
The green belt project was taken up in the coastal areas especially after the catastrophic cyclone of 1991 and this project later played an effective role in preventing erosion and reducing the damage caused by other natural disasters in the coastal areas through extensive afforestation programs. In addition to the abundant cyclone shelters in the coastal areas, extensive afforestation, especially the planting of mangrove trees, has made it possible to build strong cyclone resistance as like shield.
The analysis of the above data indicates that the number of deaths due to the sufficiency to deal with such disasters where millions of people would have died in the last three or four decades is now very low. As people's awareness of disaster management has increased, so it has the information on disaster infrastructure development and disaster preparedness, which is a great achievement for Bangladesh. Therefore, this capability of Bangladesh is very much appreciated and is working as a role model in the world as it has gained a lot of capability in dealing with cyclones and floods.
However, as a single country, our risk is highest because of the fact that about 700 million people in South Asia are at risk of disaster and the coastal delta region. In such a reality, the regional office of the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) has been inaugurated in Bangladesh in September 2020. The reality is that in disaster-stricken countries like ours, one disaster strikes before another.
South Asia is prone to various climate change disasters such as cyclones, floods, tidalwaves, droughts, landslides and avalanches. If the global temperature rises by only 1.5 points, the danger in our region will increase manifold. As a result, countries around the world need to play a stronger role in tackling climate change and raising awareness, including enhancing regional capacity to deal with disasters.
However, researchers say that one of the main sources of biodiversity and environmental protection is the Sundarbans and the green belt of the coastal region. In the time of Sidr, Aila, Bulbul and more recently Yaas, the Sundarbans has acted as a bulwark while the existence of the Sundarbans and such natural forests is under threat due to some man-made causes.
And the Rampal coal-based power plant to be built next to the Sundarbans has become a 'blow to the head', a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If this continues, it will not take long for the only natural bulwark Sundarbans to be lost. For this, besides making everyone aware, the government should also come forward to protect the Sundarbans. In order to be successful in dealing with disasters, we need to be more aware, vigilant and attentive as well as capable in these matters.
Nature moves at its own whim. Therefore, just as people do not have the power to prevent natural disasters, they also do not know the strategy of self-defense. However, disaster preparedness and precautionary measures can save a lot of damage. For this, as public awareness is needed, it is also necessary to build infrastructure such as protection from storms and floods, to build high dams. Through state planning, necessary shelters, more green belts can be created in the public interest and measures need to be taken to make disaster response capabilities more sustainable and long lasting.
Md. Zillur Rahaman is banker and Freelance Columnist