2007 calamity regarded as watershed moment in country’s disaster response efforts.
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) – Mass awareness of natural disasters has drastically increased in Bangladesh in recent years, particularly after the devastating Cyclone Sidr in 2007, according to experts and coastal communities.
The South Asian country, which is one of the world’s most disaster-prone states, has recorded nearly a million deaths along with huge economic losses in natural disasters including cyclones and floods over the last five decades.
The 1970 Bhola Cyclone that killed up to 500,000 people in the coastal areas of what was then East Pakistan, was the most destructive in the nation’s history. There were also major floods and cyclones in 1980, 1991, 1998, and 2007.
Cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh in November 2007, has been regarded as a watershed moment in the country’s disaster response efforts.
“I will never forget the devastating Cyclone Sidr that took my parents away from me forever,” Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, a native of the coastal region of Sarankhola, Bagerhat, told Anadolu Agency.
Rahman, a Dhaka University student at the time, wanted to support his parents after graduating, but to no avail.
In the days leading up to the cyclone, his parents Adam Ali Khan and Anwara Begum, like millions of others in coastal areas, stayed at home to protect their property.
The tropical cyclone washed away everything, and the parents’ bodies were later found from a nearby location.
Nearly 10,000 people were killed, many more were injured, and vast swathes of land were wrecked. It is said that the majority of the victims refused to take cover in cyclone shelters.
But Rahman, who now works in the capital, said people have changed since then. “Earlier, they were forced to take shelter but now look for temporary protection on their own,” he said.
Md. Mohiuddin Asmay, a resident in Barguna’s southern coastal district, said before Sidr, there had not been a major calamity for a long time. Hence, the people did not heed warnings.
“The government issued flood and storm alerts several times, but nothing major happened. So, they did not take Sidr’s warning seriously, many stayed at home and refused advice to seek shelter at safe facilities,” he told Anadolu Agency.
He added that the majority of people in coastal areas are either poor or middle-income, and are particularly concerned about their belongings such as houses, cattle, and poultry.
Following the 2007 disaster, however, people have developed an awareness, and many financially solvent people built multi-story buildings instead of modest wooden cottages.
“People now take cover in their nearby concrete houses or cyclone shelters in response to any precautionary natural disaster warnings,” he said.
Bangladesh is one of the world’s most-densely populated countries, with about 170 million people, nearly one-third of whom live in 19 coastal districts.
When a large number of people gather in cyclone shelters during a natural disaster, there is a scarcity of sanitation facilities, drinking water and food, and privacy is restricted.
The government could face a new crisis in case of a new disaster as there is risk of disease spread, according to Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, executive director of the Coastal Association for Social Transformation Trust.
He told Anadolu Agency that the government should provide incentives to coastal communities to build concrete houses such that during disasters they do not have to relocate in large numbers.
“The more such houses constructed, the less pressure will be on institutional cyclone shelters,” he said, noting that the shelters are usually schools and local government offices.
– Awareness programs
Shah Muhammad Nasim, a senior official at the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry, told Anadolu Agency that the government has undertaken a number of disaster-related mass awareness programs.
According to him, the measures include disaster education and training in schools, annual disaster response exercises; meetings, workshops and seminars for disability inclusive disaster risk management, and mock fire drills. He claimed that as a result, loss of life and assets has “decreased dramatically.”