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Dhaka Tribune

Gender Inclusive Disaster Preparedness: Bangladesh comes a long way, far to go 

  • Bangladesh manages to drastically reduce disaster-related deaths
  • Successfully eliminates gender inequality in such fatalities
  • Conscious efforts being expended to make shelters user-friendly for women and children
Update : 13 Mar 2024, 08:30 AM

Being the 7th most extreme disaster risk-prone country in the world, Bangladesh is at the receiving end of many natural calamities, starting from high-magnitude floods to powerful tropical cyclones. 

Thanks to Bangladesh's significant investment in disaster risk management and its focus on saving lives, not only has the country managed to drastically reduce disaster-related deaths, but it has also successfully eliminated gender inequality in such fatalities.

There was a time when far too many women used to die compared to their male counterparts, but not anymore. 

In 1970, before the era of early warning systems and storm tracking by satellite, the Bhola Cyclone claimed an estimated 300,000 lives in then East Pakistan. One of the most striking things about the storm was that women victims outnumbered men 14 to 1.

Cyclone Sidr, some 37 years later, was as powerful but casualties fell to about 3,500. The ratio of female to male deaths dropped to 5 to 1.

Speaking at an event marking National Disaster Preparedness Day in the city recently, Disaster Management and Relief Secretary Md Kamrul Hasan said the ratio has now further dropped to 1 to 1. 

Should Bangladesh be complacent?

Bangladesh observed National Disaster Preparedness Day on March 10 this year as it has done every year since 1997. The country and its disaster preparedness machinery have proudly spoken about many success stories and rightly so. Experts, however, note that there shouldn’t be any room for complacency when many aspects of gender inclusiveness in disaster risk management still need to be taken care of.

Dilruba Haider, who has been championing the cause of gender equality for many years, currently works as a program specialist at UN Women. She said there are still a lot of inconveniences for women who want to take temporary refuge in cyclone shelters when disasters loom. 

Their hygiene and sanitation needs are yet not taken care of in many shelter facilities, and in shelters where some of these features are included, they are not always user-friendly for women and girls, she added.

Haider says there are many active grassroots-level disaster management committees (DMCs) in the country’s cyclone-vulnerable zones, but many women members of such DMCs in flood-hit zones are not very aware of these committees and their roles.

Brojo Gopal Saha is a deputy director at the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD). He says that when disasters loom and strike, early warnings do not reach all the people with disabilities. 

He thinks disaster preparedness has to be more inclusive and early warnings, in audio-visual forms, should reach people who have disabilities of one kind or the other.  

Responses came from the ministry secretary, as Kamrul Islam reassured all that there are some 5,000 shelters in the country now and conscious efforts are being expended to make these shelters user-friendly for women and children. “We’re now making separate spaces for lactating mothers within the cyclone shelters for breastfeeding.”

On Sunday, he was speaking at a Brac-arranged event marking National Disaster Preparedness Day.

Presenting a keynote at the program, Liakat Ali, one of the Brac directors, said Bangladesh was affected by almost 300 natural and human induced disasters over the last 50 years, causing nearly half a million deaths and over $22 billion worth of damage. 

He observed that DMCs are not fully functional due to financial constraints and lack of orientation. “Some don’t even know that they are members of the DMCs.”

Patricia Fernandes, a World Bank social development specialist, once said: “Women’s representation can help ensure issues are seen from multiple angles. A community driven development project in the Philippines requires 50-50 representation on committees that also make decisions about disaster planning and allocation of funds for community investments.”

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