Bangladesh has always been a frequent victim of cyclones, but a number of complex issues mean cyclones, and the tidal surges they often cause, are having an increasingly devastating impact on people living along the coast.
Population pressure, land shortage, urbanisation, governance and environmental management are all contributing factors, along with any rise in sea level from the impact of climate change* , which challenge the sustainability of many people’s means of making a living.
Fishing families and others on low incomes are particularly vulnerable. As they are already poor, when a cyclone or flood takes everything they own, they are left with literally nothing. They have no reserves in the bank and no insurance to help them start over.
The trauma of living through a cyclone only gives way to the overwhelming struggle to survive in its aftermath. And of course the survivors are the lucky ones.
It would be understandable to think that hundreds of thousands of people are facing a bleak future. But that’s not quite the whole story.
Many communities are defying the odds, hoping for, and finding, a better future for themselves and their children.
You can find out more in the photo story below.
Thanks to a five-year Bangladesh Red Crescent programme (2006-2011), supported by the British Red Cross, 84 communities are now better at protecting people and their means of making a living when a cyclone strikes.
We focused on those living along the coast and most at risk of losing their lives, in particular:
women and children
Alamgir Hossain, from Ghutabacha community, says: “Knowledge is not expensive but it saves lives. Before Cyclone Sidr in 2007, people didn’t bother much about cyclone warnings.
“But over the last few years, since the Red Crescent has been working with us, people’s attitudes have changed. Now people listen to the warnings and know what to do.”
Safety at sea
Facing a cyclone at sea is a risky business. But without a radio and understanding of early warning signals, this is the terrifying situation experienced by many Bangladeshi fishermen.
We’ve trained 300 fishermen in safety at sea and provided them with:
first aid kit.
The training included: use of the equipment; understanding the cyclone warning system; first aid; and search and rescue.
It is common practice in Bangladesh for women to only leave the house with permission from their husband.
When a cyclone hits and a woman’s husband is out, despite the danger, she often doesn’t feel able to leave the home to seek safe shelter. As a result many women and children may die unnecessarily.
Through our programme, we tackled this problem by:
setting up women’s forums and building women’s confidence through training working with the wider community, including religious leaders, to change attitudes to women.
Setting up community committees, made up of volunteers that motivate and organise their community to prepare for and respond to cyclones, has been key to the programme’s success and sustainability.
Alagmir Hossain, who is the secretary general of the Ghutabacha community disaster preparedness committee, says: “We are much better informed and organised. We’ve developed hazard maps that identify the homes and people most at risk, as well as the location of shelters.
“I feel confident we’ll continue sharing this knowledge and using the skills we’ve gained to save lives.”
A safer future
Following the completion of this work, the Bangladesh Red Crescent, with support from the British Red Cross, is developing a programme to help communities become more resilient, not just to cyclones but also a wider range of disasters and day to day crises.
Helping people protect their livelihoods as well as their lives will be a vital part of this work.
- UNISDR: Climate Change Impact And Disaster Vulnerabilities In The Coastal Areas Of Bangladesh
View the photos on Flickr
Find out more about how we’re helping people in Bangladesh prepare for disasters