HCTT Contingency Plan 2020 for Climate-Related Disasters in the COVID-19 Pandemic Context

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Bangladesh is a highly disaster-prone country and throughout its existence, it suffered the impact of both extensive (low-severity, high-frequency events) and intensive (high-severity, mid-frequency to low-frequency events) disasters. Bangladesh is amongst the countries most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change including the increase of incidence and intensity of extreme weather events and hazards such as cloudbursts, heat waves, cold waves, soil salinization, rising sea levels and riverbank erosion. Women and girls in Bangladesh are disproportionally impacted by disasters and, their contributions to disaster risk reduction are often overlooked. Current national disaster management systems and mechanisms are not developed in a gender-responsive manner. The INFORM Global Risk Index (GRI) reveals that the threat of climate-related disasters remains very high. However, over the years, Bangladesh’s ability to cope with climate-related disasters has increased. Bangladesh’s geographical location next to the Bay of Bengal, low-lying terrain, monsoons, and significant rivers render the country very vulnerable to climate-related disasters. Moreover, Bangladesh is also affected by human-made disasters (e.g. protracted Rohingya refugee crisis and 2013 Rana Plaza disaster).

Tropical cyclones and storms followed by deadly lightning are among the most destructive hazards in Bangladesh. In 1970, devastating Tropical Cyclone Bhola struck then-East Pakistan (prior to Bangladesh’s independence) and India’s West Bengal State, causing more than 500,000 fatalities. In 2007, category four Super Cyclone SIDR affected 9 million people in 30 districts. 3,406 persons lost their life and damages and losses were estimated at US$ 1.7 billion. Floods including river, coastal, and urban flash/flooding are recurring disasters and their impact vary. Other significant climaterelated hazards are extreme heat, cold waves, cloudbursts, hill slides, wildfires and tsunamis. Bangladesh did not have the experience of a major earthquake in its recent history but the country is situated in a seismic active region and the risk is important.

The country’s geography exposes the population to a high risk of lightning, which is exacerbated by climate change and deforestation. Strikes are expected to increase by 12% for every degree Celsius of warming, with a 50% rise in lightning expected by the end of the century . El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomena explains the dire connection between lightning and global warming which resulted such ongoing and frequent attack of lightning in Bangladesh . Already In the last two years, over 50 deaths have been reported due to lightning strike in Sylhet Division, 23% of them children. Lightning stroke the victims while they were working in the field or fishing in the Haors (waterlogged plain low-lying lands), or on the way to the school . Exposure of the community and the frequency and intensity of Lightning hazard are increasing in Bangladesh especially in its Haor Basin in the most exposed position because of its geographic openness . Therefore, Haor dwellers are the immediate victim of Lightning since they are the only tallest object when it strikes and there is no place around to take shelter. There are 7 districts of Bangladesh (i.e. Sunamganj, Habiganj, Netrokona, Kishoreganj, Sylhet, Moulovibazar, Brahmanbaria) which are dominated with Haor basins. Children in these districts are vulnerable to the attack of Thunderstorm/ Lightning strike, mostly who are living in the deep Haor areas. During a normal monsoon, floods cover about 20% of the country, disrupting life and causing deaths. When monsoon flooding is considered severe, more than 60% of Bangladesh gets inundated. Devastating floods occurred in 1988, 1998, 2004 and 2007. In the last 100 years, floods killed over 50,000 people, left nearly 32 million homeless and affected more than 300 million people. Additional information on the country including the organization of disaster management is accessible in the 2017 US CFE Disaster Management Handbook accessible here.

COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic on 11 March 2020. The first case of COVID-19 in Bangladesh was detected on 8 March 2020. Up-to-date data information is accessible here. Bangladesh Government has declared a general holiday for all sectors and banned all inter district public transports and travel of people except the emergency and essential services since 26 March 2020 and most of the economic activity are retrained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

This contingency plan looks at the risks of cyclone or floods or landslides in Bangladesh in the context of COVID-19. Cyclones, floods and landslides in context of the pandemic will further increase people’s vulnerability and their impact could be devastating. It concerns mostly the already highly vulnerable and exposed population to such type of events including slum dwellers and refugees.