Faced with the possibility of a massive earthquake striking the country, the government has taken the initiative to train around 36,000 ‘Urban Volunteers’ to help with rescue operations and first aid.
In addition to the volunteers, the government has procured the heavy-lifting equipment needed to run a proper rescue operation in the event of a large number of collapsed buildings, particularly in the capital.
Despite this forward planning, experts believe that any rescue operation carried out in Dhaka city will likely face difficulties due to a lack of social awareness and not enough road access.
Major Shakil Newaz, the director (maintenance and operation) of Fire Service and Civil Defense (FSCD), said it might take the FSCD “several hours or even longer” to arrive at the scene of such a powerful quake, where a large number of buildings have collapsed.
“In the case of such extensive damage, the problem will be to reach the affected locations. If the city experiences a disaster of this level, the road network will also collapse,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
The FSCD director cited the example of the Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013. “Nearby people started rescuing victims of the building collapse even before firefighters arrived on the scene. Later, we brought in heavy equipment to rescue people from the rubble,” he said.
Major Shakil Newaz said that although the FSCD is the designated authority for running rescue operations during disasters, it is not possible to carry out the operation smoothly without support.
“This is why the country needs a strong coordination among all related stakeholders, including other agencies of the government and people of the community,” he said.
A number of studies have made predictions based on different seismic models and geographical history that the city of Dhaka is at risk of a strong earthquake, measuring 7 or higher on the Richter scale.
One such study, titled ‘Dhaka Profile and earthquake Risk Atlas’, estimated that an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 along the Madhupur Fault would result in more than 50,000 fatalities and over 200,000 injuries.
It is also estimated that around 88,000 buildings - over one quarter of the total structures in Dhaka - will be extensively damaged.
So how prepared is the capital for such a catastrophic event?
The government has taken the initiative to train ‘Urban Volunteers’ to receive support from the community level and to create mass awareness on tackling natural disasters such as earthquakes.
So far, around 36,000 young people - of whom half are based in Dhaka - have received hands-on training for conducting rescue operations and providing first aid.
The training has been delivered under two different government initiatives taken by Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) and FSCD.
In addition to the ‘Urban Volunteers’, another initiative called ‘Disaster Risk Reduction clubs’ (DRR clubs) has been taken in educational institutions to raise awareness among school children.
With the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the DRR clubs were set up in different high schools throughout Dhaka, including at Armanitola Government High School.
“After receiving a training on earthquake preparedness, the students formed a DRR club in a room inside the school building with the approval of the school administration in 2014,” said Md Nure Alam Nahid, the school’s ex-president who now works at the DRR club as a trainer.
“The students of 10 other schools in the area also received the training.”
Bangladesh has received global praise as a disaster resilient country, due in part to the government’s quick response to relief and rehabilitation and to the strong role played by ‘CPP volunteers’ in the coastal regions.
The CPP group was jointly created by the International Federation of Red Crescent Society and the Government of Bangladesh following the loss of tens of thousands of lives in the 1970 Bhola cyclone. It has been tasked with raising awareness among the people about cyclone preparedness, the early warning system and guidelines in times of crisis.
“It is obvious that the CPP has a strong role in reducing the death toll, as well as property damages from cyclones,” said Mahbuba Nasreen. “In comparison with the ‘Urban Volunteers’, the CPP is much more active as cyclones are a regular phenomena in the bay area.”