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Preparing for disaster

  • Published at 12:02 am May 22nd, 2019
Dhanmondi Lake tree fell Cyclone Fani
Photo: DHAKA TRIBUNE

Are we ready for the next cyclone? 

Cyclone Fani hit Bangladesh recently. The damages do not much compare to other disasters which had previously taken place and it seemed that Bangladesh was well prepared. 

This should be commended as, when it comes to natural disasters, it is very difficult to reduce the damages and destruction to zero.

Although Cyclone Fani did not gather much speed but, if the cyclone had hit us with much greater power like the ones in the past, what would have happened?

The number of dead bodies and destruction of property would have been higher.  

The question then arises: How prepared is the government to face such natural hazards?

Bangladesh is a country of natural disasters -- cyclones, floods, river bank erosion, earthquakes, droughts, and other natural disasters occur almost regularly in this country. 

In the past, the concept of disaster management only remained in two phases -- relief and recovery. However, after having faced disasters, slowly, Bangladesh has adapted risk identification, preparedness, the participation of the people, and a host of other strategies for disaster management. 

But, is it enough? To understand our aptitude in this regard, we need to understand the legal framework of disasters.

A legal framework is needed because it gives mandatory obligations and responsibilities to appointed people. 

Though a good legal framework regarding disaster management should have been prepared in the early stages but, in reality, the Disaster Management Act was passed in 2012. 

The Act formed a department -- Disaster Management -- which is responsible for the application of all plans and policies regarding disasters at all levels of the country.

In this framework, the Act asks to form councils and committees at different levels who will work together to protect people from disasters.

There is a National Disaster Management Council in Bangladesh consisting of the prime minister as chairperson and different ministers and officers as members. 

The responsibility of this council is to give the guidelines and policies of prevention, mitigation, preparation, response, and other necessary things regarding disasters.

Also, there are local level committees and groups working to execute the plans with the National Disaster Response Coordination Group and national level management committees. 

These committees at the local level play a very important role during hazards -- they stay close to ordinary people and execute the plans easily. 

But these suffer from a lack of coordination and cooperation which causes the people from the affected areas to suffer.

There is a need for participation of women and disabled people in these local committees. Their representation will help identify the problems and their recommendations will help to create a strategy for effective management. 

The government usually provides relief through monetary, health, food, and other support to affected people. 

It has two separate funds named National Disaster Management Fund and District Disaster Management Fund which help in this regard. 

Although these funds receive donations nationally and internationally, the relief goes to the affected areas through a process which is quite corrupt. The allocated relief seldom reaches the people who have suffered.

Health is a crucial factor during hazards -- health clinics and hospitals are often in full capacity. The government can alter this by including institutions, hospitals, and clinics under any private or non-government organization to come and offer any form of aid. 

If necessary, it can appoint the armed forces to recover the disaster areas.

Bangladesh’s shelters for hazards are not sufficient and fully prepped. Emergency shelters must be appointed and stocked for disaster. 

If necessary, the legal framework also said to form a research and training institute to increase the capability of disaster management.

The legal mechanism of disaster management is good in theory but not in reality. 

The government is still working to make a better regulatory framework to face disasters. 

We have to remember Bangladesh is at high risk when it comes to natural disasters. 

The application of laws and coordination among all the authority in all the phases of rescue, relief, preparedness, and recovery can reduce the harm of disasters at the highest level. 

Rizowan Ahmed is a student of law, North South University.