Bangladesh: Disaster Risk Reduction as Development


Bangladesh women work together to improve community infrastructure, including roads. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh.

A country of exceptional vulnerability to natural hazards

Bangladesh has a long history of natural disasters. Between 1980 and 2008, it experienced 219 natural disasters, causing over US$16 billion in total damage. The predicted effects of climate change will only compound these impacts.

UNDP has long supported Bangladesh in addressing its vulnerability to disaster. For over two decades, it has helped Bangladesh shift from reactive relief to proactive risk reduction.  The results are apparent in the fewer number of lives and livelihoods destroyed by natural disasters. Today, Bangladesh is a global leader in disaster management and risk reduction.

Towards a comprehensive programme of disaster mitigation

Following colossal floods in the 1980s, Bangladesh — with support from UNDP — developed a flood action plan that initiated a proactive culture of disaster management and risk reduction. It established disaster-focused institutions such as the Flood Forecasting Warning Centre, introduced pilot projects to reduce vulnerability and developed policy and planning guidelines.

Highlights

  • Bangladesh experienced 219 natural disasters causing over US$16 billion in damage between 1980 and 2008.
  • With support from UNDP, Bangladesh developed a flood action plan initiating a culture of disaster management and risk reduction.
  • Following a catastrophic cyclone in 1991 the government, with help from UNDP, established the Disaster Management Bureau.

A catastrophic cyclone in 1991 spurred additional action. With help from UNDP, the Government established the Disaster Management Bureau. Tasked with reducing the human, economic and environmental costs of disasters, and strengthening national capacities and cross-sectoral partnerships, the new Bureau became the institutional foundation of an integrated approach to disaster risk reduction, response and recovery. Between 1994 and
2002, UNDP supported the development of policies that empowered disaster management committees at all levels of government to plan and coordinate risk reduction and emergency response.

In the early 2000s this approach was consolidated. The Government established the National Disaster Management Council along with coordinating structures that embraced civil society organizations and local government authorities. UNDP supported this consolidation through the multi-donor Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme, in which the European Union is an important partner, among others. This Programme led to revised policies, strategies and mechanisms that began to screen development programmes through a ‘risk-lens.’ Bangladesh became a pioneer among least developed countries in prioritizing disaster risk reduction in national fiscal planning. With assistance from the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme, Bangladesh adopted a general risk reduction model that encouraged national stakeholders to consider existing disaster risks as well as the risks of projected climate extremes in building national and community resilience. UNDP also supported the development of early warning systems and the introduction of innovative technology, including the construction of 15,000 disaster-resilient homes and the development of drought- and saline-resistant crops.

Making a difference: the transformational impact

UNDP helped Bangladesh to develop the physical assets, knowledge and human capacity — and the planning, coordination, finance and implementation mechanisms — that underpin its disaster management and risk reduction system. These investments contribute to a transformed disaster scenario. Fundamental to this transformation are:

A fresh approach: Lessons from previous decades led to the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme and a national risk reduction agenda.

Leadership: Bangladesh’s coordination framework stretches from the National Disaster Management Council, chaired by the Prime Minister, to a network of over 2,000 village disaster committees, 40 district Disaster Management Committees, 12 directly involved line ministries and six donor partners.

Capacity development: a) Training programmes: Over 60,000 government officials were trained in emergency response. Cooperation with civil society and volunteer organizations has mobilized an even greater pool of knowledgeable first responders; b) Institutions and policies: Dedicated institutions with clear mandates provide focal points for development partners. With UNDP support, national institutions have become proactive, using early warning systems and mitigation strategies; c) Civil society engagement: UNDP support and advocacy has helped empower civil society organizations to work for change.

A multi-hazard focus: The focus in disaster management and risk reduction now includes a broader range of potential hazards, including the impacts of climate change.

The most significant measure of Bangladesh’s success is the dramatic reduction in lives lost to natural disasters. Historically, deaths from single events reached the hundreds of thousands. But with the exception of two unusually violent cyclones in 1995, the recent trend has been steadily downwards.

Of course, challenges remain. Ensuring uniform levels of capacity throughout the country and maintaining focus in the ‘normal’ periods between disasters remain problematic. Mainstreaming disaster considerations and integrating them into development planning is a continual process in Bangladesh, as in other countries.


Total Number of deaths by floods and cyclone, 1970 to 2010

Source:  Created from EM-DAT

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As part of the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (supported by UNDP, EU and other partners) 15,746 disaster-resilient homes and shelters were constructed in highly vulnerable communities in Bangladesh.

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Lessons learned

Bangladesh’s experience offers the following lessons:

Sustained engagement: UNDP’s engagement extends over several decades. Given the complexity of the issues and the institutional challenges, there is no ‘quick fix.’ Bangladesh’s experience highlights the importance of gradual and self-supporting change. Engagement is most effective when spread across a range of stakeholders, from government bodies to civil society organizations.

Disaster risk assessment and mitigation requires community engagement: The risks that communities face vary. An effective response requires community action to address local needs, contexts and aspirations. Bangladesh demonstrates that a standardized framework can be managed through a national programme while accounting for local-level variations.

Partnership frameworks: UNDP has successfully leveraged its impartial ‘knowledge-broker’ status to bring together a vast partnership network.

Institutional reform and capacity building: With support from UNDP and others, Bangladesh became a leader in its institutional framework for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, with a number of core government policies and programmes incorporating risk reduction from their earliest stages.