Four months in a year -- April-May and October - November are the hardest for the people living in the coastal regions of Bangladesh, as those are recognized as the cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal.
During these days of pre-monsoon and pre-winter, Rahima Begum and her family members are prepared with the valuables, so that she can move anytime to the nearest cyclone shelter, whenever a cyclone approaches towards the coast.
A 41-year old widow, Rahima, along with her three children had been living in a dilapidated tin-shed house located in Bashbunia village under Golachipa upazila of Patuakhali District for the last 20 years.
Every year, particularly during the months of cyclone, her house used to get inundated and sometimes the roof would fly away. Also, the cyclone shelter from her residence is far away, hence she had to seek refuge at her relative’s place, based on first come first accommodated basis.
Like Rahima, hundreds of people living in the Bangladeshi coast, get prepared with their things during this period of time, to save their lives as well as movable belongings, which are essential to continue their lives and livelihood.
Moreover, due to the inadequate number of cyclone shelter, and safe approach roads across the coast, many people are forced to stay at their own houses during the disaster, which often fail to protect them.
According to the Department of Disaster Management, currently the country has some 4,500-cyclone shelters with the capacity to accommodate 600-1,200 people in each, which is inadequate to serve around 35 million coastal population of the country.
Considering the vulnerability of extreme climatic events and easing the people’s pain, BRAC has been working on this need for last few decades and recently came up with an innovative and cost effective solution. Based on the learning from the past interventions and people’s need, BRAC Climate Change Programme (CCP) has been piloting the climate resilient individual housing cum mini-cyclone shelter concept since last year.
Initially, BRAC CCP has constructed and provided 10 housing facilities for 10 most vulnerable families. Rahima’s family is one of them.
The low-cost two-storied building has been designed in a way to withstand extreme climatic events like cyclone and tidal surges. Additionally, the house would serve as a mini-cyclone shelter for the neighbours.
“I never imagined that a widow like myself would be an owner of such a beautiful house. Throughout my life, I sought refuge at my relative’s house during cyclones. Now, I am happy to provide shelter to my relatives and neighbours”.
Coastal vulnerability and the house
According to the 5th Assessment report of Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Bangladesh is identified as being at specific risk from climate change due to its exposure to sea-level rise and extreme events like salinity intrusion, drought, erratic rainfall, unusual cyclonic event and tidal surge which will hamper the country's food as well as livelihood security.
Recurrent losses of housing and livelihood due to climate-induced hazards such as cyclones, riverine and flash flooding, sea level rise induced salinity and river erosion have major impacts on rural dwellings, leading to repeated displacement and migration.
Likewise, Bangladesh Meteorological Department data says, the number and frequency of depression-turned tropical cyclone as well as event of tidal surge has been increased manifold in the Bay of Bengal in last two decades.
These vulnerabilities are exacerbated by the absence of guidelines, standards, procedures and finally enforcement that could support sustainable and resilient housing construction in rural areas.
BRAC designed climate resilient house is an especially designed house for vulnerable populations in order to build resilience and respond to climate induced disaster and long-term changes resulting from climate change impacts.
These houses are capable of withstanding climatic shocks without permanent deformation. Community consultation and using indigenous knowledge are among the key requirements in developing and designing the climate-resilient housing.
“Each house costs around Tk5,50,000 (USD 7,000) and it can provide shelter for 35 to 40 people during cyclone or other natural disasters,” said Dr Md Liakath Ali, director of BRAC Climate Change Programme.
The structural design is cyclone resilient, which is expected to withstand wind speed up to 250 kilomtres per hour and plinth height is above the tidal surge level of the last 100 years’ average.
The house with 652 square feet volume also has rainwater harvesting system and sanitation facilities available within the building. The ground floor will be used for saving the livestock.
“Observing the demand from the community, we are planning to provide 30 more facilities this year, reaching to the community that need the support most,” he added.
Hydrologist and Climate Change expert Prof Ainun Nishat welcomed BRAC’s initiative for promoting climate resilient housing for the coastal people.
“The infrastructures -- both public and private, in the coastal region should be made in a way so that these can be used for regular purpose like housing, school or others; and during cyclone they could be transformed as shelter,” the professor added.
Both the writers work for the BRAC Climate Change Programme.