Building back better in Bangladesh

10 Jul 2009

In 2007, Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh, a densely populated developing country that is buffeted by increasingly worse cyclones, floods and monsoons. Sidr brought Bangladesh’s river delta region to its knees, killing 3,363 people and damaging or destroying the homes of 1.5 million families.

A joint UNDP-supported project is working not just to rebuild those homes for the poorest and most vulnerable but to set an innovative standard for what those new houses should look like. Many of the original homes were built with bamboo and straw, which stood little chance in the face of winds that reached up to 240 km/hr. The newly designed and built structures are made of brick, which is resilient to high winds. They have cross-bracing for strength and stand a full two metres above the ground. If flood waters do manage to reach the house itself, it is perforated with a number of insulation holes that allow the water to pass through, keeping damage to a minimum. Finally, the design of the homes is according to culturally-sensitive standards, the only way to ensure its widespread adoption.

The project is targeting those who are most in need, including women-headed households and families with disabilities. As sea-levels continue to rise as a result of climate change, Bangladesh could lose up to 15 to 18 percent of its land area. For an already overpopulated and land-scarce country, the social upheaval resulting from the effects of climate change could have devastating effects. Rebuilding is not only about disaster recovery at this point, but about mitigating the effects of future natural disasters that threaten to destabilize the country’s economic and human development growth.