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Dhaka Tribune

Earthquake Preparedness: Has Bangladesh readied a volunteer force yet?

One aspect of dealing with the immediate aftermath of a tremor must be a coordinated rescue and relief operation, which requires a trained workforce

Update : 13 Mar 2024, 12:00 AM

With rapid urbanization, often accompanied by buildings being developed without adhering to safety codes, Bangladesh is considered ill-prepared for the eventuality of a high-magnitude earthquake.

One aspect of dealing with the immediate aftermath of a tremor must be a coordinated rescue and relief operation, which requires a trained workforce.

For too long, Bangladesh has been stating that it is preparing a trained force of 62,000 volunteers to aid the government's mechanism in conducting any rescue and relief operation. However, the task has not been accomplished in the past decade or so.

In an earlier announcement back in 2017, it was said that half of the volunteer force had been made ready.

On Sunday, speaking on the sidelines of a city event, Disaster Management and Relief Secretary Md Kamrul Hasan told Dhaka Tribune that as many as 50,000 volunteers have been prepared for any future tremor challenge.

Mijanur Rahman, Director General of the Department of Disaster Management (DDM), said that too many people living in too little urban space is a recipe for colossal damage in the case of tremors. He emphasized the establishment of volunteer hubs in Dhaka's peripheries so that the force can be deployed in an organized manner in the event of a major earthquake striking the country’s capital, the densest of all urban habitats in Bangladesh.

“We’re the 7th most populous country and rank 94th in terms of geographical size.”

Mostak Hussain, a veteran humanitarian worker with experience in witnessing rescue and relief tasks in the aftermath of major earthquakes hitting Nepal and Pakistan in recent years, told Dhaka Tribune that Bangladesh’s earthquake preparedness is very weak. He stressed the importance of ensuring an auto-shutoff mechanism in the city’s gas and power supplies so that a bigger disaster doesn't occur in the event of an earthquake.

The urban volunteers received free courses run by the fire department, including lectures, drills, and exercises on search and rescue, first aid, fire safety, and equipment handling.

The training is part of the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP), backed by the Bangladesh government and the UNDP. Since 2011, it has trained 30,000 volunteers in nine cities during the first 5/6 years, with the aim of having the figure reach 62,000 by 2020.

Trainees are typically high school graduates aged between 18 and 40. They have to pass an exam before becoming certified volunteers.

According to a 2004 CDMP study, an estimated 72,000 buildings would collapse if an earthquake of 7.5 on the Richter scale struck Dhaka.

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