UN Humanitarian Chief praises Bangladesh’s investment in disaster preparedness

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 03 Dec 2012

(Dhaka/New York, 3 December 2012): The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos has made her first official visit to Bangladesh, one of the world’s most disaster prone countries.

Bangladesh, which is a mostly low-lying country with the world's highest population density, suffers cyclones almost every year as well as floods, landslides, drought and earthquakes (seven this year). The visit was an opportunity for Ms Amos to discuss disaster preparedness and understand how the Government has prioritized preparedness activities. “In the past 20 years it’s estimated that 135 million people have been affected in Bangladesh by disasters. But the Government is addressing this challenge head on by investing in its local communities. Other countries can learn from Bangladesh,” said Ms Amos.

Bangladesh is often hailed as a global leader in disaster risk reduction because it adopted a series of preparedness measures following a cyclone in 1991 that killed more than 140,000 people. In 2007, when another major cyclone struck, many volunteers helped move thousands of people out of the disaster area, ultimately saving countless lives. The death toll from that tragedy was 4,000.

“This is one of the strongest examples of how preparedness saves lives. And preparedness doesn’t have to be costly. Bangladesh has trained 25,000 community volunteers to be the first-line of response after a storm or flood. It’s cost effective and it saves lives,” said Ms Amos.

During her visit Ms Amos met representatives of Government, the UN, non-governmental organizations and the donor community. She discussed challenges in humanitarian access, and building resilience in local communities and households so they are better able to cope when disaster strikes.

Aid organizations and the Government are concerned that Bangladesh is overdue a severe earthquake that could have a devastating impact on a city like Dhaka where an estimated 40 million people work and where 65 per cent of the buildings could collapse depending on the severity of the earthquake.

“The Government is aware that it needs to strengthen this part of its disaster preparedness and I commend its initiative to train more than 62,000 community volunteers in urban disaster preparedness,” she said.

This year, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has deployed a senior advisor to help the Government, the UN and NGO community in Bangladesh to strengthen support on disaster management.

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To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.