Following up on cyclone recovery in Bangladesh

In 2009, Cyclone Aila struck the southwest coastal zone of Bangladesh, destroying the main embankments that protect the region and many houses. "Core family shelters" (seen in the background, with blue roofs) were part of the recovery plan. Photo: UNDP in Bangladesh

On May 25th, 2009, Cyclone Aila struck the southwest coastal zone of Bangladesh, destroying Bipasha Rani Mondol’s house and badly damaging her family’s garment shop.

“We didn’t get any warning about the tidal surge,” says 29-year-old Bipasha. “In half an hour’s time the water entered our village through the breaches. Many people went to the cyclone shelter to save their lives. We depended on trees and boats to save our lives and took shelter on the embankment.”

Cyclone Aila destroyed the main embankments that protect the region and caused long-term hardships for the local population. 255,000 families in Satkhira and Khulna districts were affected, with 165,000 houses destroyed and 25,928 families forced to live in makeshift shelters on damaged embankments. Freshwater sources were badly compromised, livelihood options were drastically reduced, and many people were forced to migrate domestically and internationally.


  • 16,755 people affected by Aila benefitted from the comprehensive recovery efforts
  • 265 families benefited from core family shelters
  • 30 deep tub-wells and 250 rainwater collection ponds were created to collect freshwater
  • 3 km of embankments were rebuilt to protect against floods; 3km of afforestation implemented to protect against soil degradation/landslides

Bipasha, her husband Proshanto, and their two sons lived in a makeshift shelter on that embankment for the next two-and-a-half years.  To pay loans owed to fabric retailers, she was forced to sell off her jewelry.  

The family received support from the Government, Islamic Relief and other relief partners in the area and, after the embankment where her family had lived was repaired, they moved back into the area, building a thatch hut. But that hut was not equipped to withstand another strong storm and the family worried about the cycle of damage and loss should they remain in such fragile housing.

Resilient housing for families like Bipasha’s remains one of the most pressing concerns in post-recovery environments. Recognizing this, the Government of Bangladesh, UNDP and other international partners initiated reconstruction efforts that would support these communities in ‘building back better.’

Beginning in October 2012, representatives of UNDP’s Early Recovery Facility (ERF) worked with local administrators and government officials to identify families in the cyclone-affected area of Dakkhin Bedkashi who were eligible to receive what is called a ‘core family shelter.’ Bipasha’s family was selected as a recipient.

A core family shelter is a permanent structure that incorporates risk reduction features into its design. It can withstand cyclones up to Category 4 strength, and is big enough, in the event of disaster, to offer a safe place for beneficiaries, their immediate relatives and neighbors. Shelters are 1.5 stories high and constructed with locally available, environmentally friendly materials. The indoor space has a mezzanine floor that provides privacy and functional flexibilities, includes water-harvesting facilities, and is built so as to accommodate additions.

Construction for Bipasha’s new house started in 2012 and by the end of 2013, the one-room brick house and a disaster-resilient latrine were ready for the family.

“I feel safe at night when I sleep with my husband and two sons,” she says. In addition to the house, Bipasha worked for 25 days as part of an ERF-sponsored Cash for Work scheme, earning BDT 5,000 (around $65). She also received training on hygiene, disaster preparedness and livestock nurturing, as well as received a cash grant of BDT 10,000 to start a new livelihood.

“I was not used to working in the field, but Aila broke the social taboo. Me and many other women on our village worked in the Cash for Work schemes to earn money for our family and survive after Aila. With the cash grant from ERF-UNDP, we started the fabric business again,” she says. “My sons are going to school. We are able to pay the ‘private tuition fee’ for my sons.”

Through the life of the programme, 265 families were selected to receive these shelters. To help improve gender asset equality, a family’s husband and wife own the shelters jointly. Freshwater receptacles were created, 3 km embankments were rebuilt and 3km of afforestation was implemented. Overall, by June 2014, 16,755 people affected by Aila benefitted from the comprehensive recovery effort.

“While tragic, recovery is also an opportunity to build back stronger, safer and more resilient,” notes Jeannette Fernandez, UNDP’s Recovery Specialist in New York. “Examples like this in Bangladesh show that you can safeguard development—or in this case re-development—by incorporating disaster risk concerns.”

In March 2015 a new Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is set to emerge at the World Conference on DRR. UNDP is actively promoting an emphasis on resilient recovery processes in any new agreement.

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