"Building back better" with EU support in Bangladesh

women in front of new village
‘Two-Storey village’ is the phrase that locals from the surrounding villages use to describe this disaster resilient habitat built with the support of UNDP, EU and other donors, and designed with inputs from traditional knowledge. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

Suraiya Khatun watched helplessly as the storm surge from cyclone Aila washed her house away, leaving her with nothing to eat and nowhere to go. Though only a category-one level tropical storm with relatively low wind speeds, the damage escalated into the hundreds of millions of dollars leaving her and thousands of others with a bleak outlook long after it had passed.

“I lost my house as well as eight goats, 20 ducks and ten sacks of rice. I’ve been working as a day labourer ever since,” said Suraiya, 45, a survivor from Kedarbazar, one of the hardest hit villages on the Bangladesh coastline.

Natural disasters have wreaked more than $16 billion of damage in loss of property, livestock and poultry since 1971, when the country won independence from Pakistan, according to the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management.

The disaster resilient villages are part of the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme, supported by UNDP, EU and other partners. Some results include:

  • 15,746 disaster-resilient homes and shelters were constructed in highly vulnerable communities.
  • 3.5 million people were evacuated due to a more effective early warning system and a network of 48,540 trained volunteers.
  • over 500 risk assessment and action plans were financed, benefitting over 600,000 people with improved local disaster infrastructure to protect against flooding.
  • roles and responsibilities were clarified nationwide for 27,000 local government officials, who were also trained in basic disaster management

World's first disaster resilient habitat

Whilst the early warning systems, cyclone shelters and the Standing Order on Disasters (SOD) helped save lives, in the aftermath of Sidr and Aila, it was clear that another solution was needed for damage control.

To this end, UNDP, with the support of EU and other partners, teamed up with architects from BRAC to design and build the world’s first ever disaster resilient habitat that would protect property against cyclones striking the Bay of Bengal with increasing frequency.

The habitat in Shymnagar consists of 50 houses built on 2m concrete stilts that are designed to withstand a tidal surge of up to six feet [2m] and winds of up to 150mph [235kph].

Furthermore, trees close to the village help keep topsoil together whereas taller trees in the distance act as windbreakers. Primary and secondary embankments protect livestock and assets against high sea levels.

The village protects 50 families and costs $65,000, one- third the price of a cyclone shelter protecting a similar number of people.

Helps building stronger communities

However, the disaster resilient habitats don’t just mean stronger houses said Khondaker Hasibul Kabir, the lead architect behind the project. “We know how to build stronger houses, the challenge is building stronger communities,” he said.

UNDP’s participatory approach requires the residents to identify disaster threats, map escape routes as well as help to build each other’s homes. This inclusive process has not only improved the social cohesion within the community, but also left them better equipped to launch a quick and coordinated response in the face of a natural disaster whilst emergency aid arrives.

For Suraiya Khatun, who has both her widowed elderly mother and her unmarried daughter to look after, her home is her castle. “We are delighted, we had no other hope. I feel safe here [to start a new life],” she said.

Source: UNDP Bangladesh: Empowered Lives. Resilient Bangladesh. Results achieved with our partners, 2006-2011

Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme

In Bangladesh, UNDP, supported by EU and other donors, work with the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management with the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP). This has catalysed a paradigm shift away from reactive relief towards proactive risk reduction on a national scale.


Effective central policies, stronger institutions and smarter resource and knowledge management coupled with active community participation meant Bangladesh not only planned better to minimise the impact of natural disasters, but also accelerated recovery and built back stronger in the aftermath.

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  • UNDP Bangladesh Report: Empowered Lives. Resilient Bangladesh English