I would like to introduce Bonna, a girl born one November night in 2007 in Mazer Char, a coastal village in Pirozpur District of Khulna. It wasn’t just any November night and Bonna isn’t just any name. People in southern Bangladesh use “bonna” to describe flood and cyclone. The name was given to this little girl after being born the same night that devastating cyclone Sidr hit southern Bangladesh -- a horrifying night that is printed deep into the memory of many Bangladeshi citizens. Sidr claimed the lives of four people in Bonna’s village Mazer Char, but up to 10,000 people in the whole country.
Bonna was lucky. She survived the night that so many others didn’t, thanks to her father’s courage. The family never made it to the cyclone shelter. They left their home too late. Bonna survived because her father climbed up a tree and managed to hold on to some branches while balancing his newborn baby in his arms:
There was nothing to do but to wait and pray. At one point, water swept over the tree and I looked down on my empty arms. I was sure that my child had been lost in the disaster -- he tells me.
It was a miracle that he found baby Bonna under his t-shirt. It is still not clear to him how she managed to end up there, but she did.
The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) was held in Sendai, Japan between March 14 and 18. A new 10-year global framework for disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience is to replace the first Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). The conference was the largest ever held on DRR with an estimated 40,000 people from all over the world participating in conference-related events.
Sendai is far away from you and me in Dhaka. A high-level conference like this might not appear relevant to most people here in Bangladesh -- but it is.
Bonna was lucky that night. She survived. But many others were lost to the cyclone. Instead of talking to this energetic little girl today who convinces me to put flowers in my hair, I could have ended up visiting a family who lost their child that night. Through efficient DRR, people will no longer need luck to survive.
The WCDRR in Sendai highlights the value and importance of disaster risk reduction, disaster awareness and preparedness such as a well-functioning early warning system. The conference brought together people from 187 countries, including 25 heads of state. Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 is a step towards action, towards making the world a safer place. The Sendai Framework is about prevention effectiveness and decreasing climatic disaster risks, limiting losses and damages, or simply saving lives. Sendai is also about Bonna and all the other people living in disaster prone areas of the world. It is about making sure that all the “Bonnas” in the world and their families have a shelter and enough time to put themselves and their assets in safety. It is about making sure that people receive training on what steps to take when a cyclone is approaching -- how to best prepare, plan, and act in a short amount of time.
It is about making sure that when the next “Bonna” is born somewhere in the world, she will be kept safe in the arms of her father while waiting out the cyclone in a robust shelter.
Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson manages the Gibika (research-to-action) project on behalf of United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and Munich Re-Foundation (MRF). The Gibika project is a five-year research-to-action partnership with the aim of improving livelihoods and living conditions of people through scientific research and community-led action in Bangladesh.