Lack of preparedness for natural disasters

Dhaka,  Mon,  25 September 2017
Published : 11 Aug 2017, 20:43:52

Lack of preparedness for natural disasters

IT indeed makes a sad commentary on the state of affairs that a natural disaster striking the country every time lays bare the country's lack of preparedness. While such disasters occur due to climate change which is beyond anybody's control, most deaths and damages occurred due to apathy and negligence of those assigned to the task of disaster management. Such casualties could have easily been minimised or averted had there been steps like timely eviction or evacuation of vulnerable people. So was the case with the catastrophic landslides in south-eastern districts dotted with hills. Same thing happened with the recent flash floods in Haor areas. 

It is not comprehensible why poor and destitute people could still be allowed to build huts on slopes of hills and live there with past records of similar tragedies. How could there be laxity and corruption on the part of the Water Development Board engineers and contractors in repairing breaches of embankments well ahead of any likely flash floods. The two disasters ? mudslides and flash floods compelled the authorities to swing into action for rescue and relief operations. But the question remains why there was laxity in taking preventive measures, remains to be explained.         

The monsoon, a season of rains and floods, has just set in. Preparedness, if any, by the relevant authorities in dealing with disasters is conspicuous by its absence. There might also be further landslides in hilly districts, as experts have warned in a report published in the FE on Saturday. An internationally-acclaimed expert has warned that the intensity of rainfall will go up in the hilly areas of Chittagong in the days to come due to climate change. Higher intensity of precipitation will occur in a shorter period of time, causing more devastating landsides.

Bangladesh deserves praise for highlighting the country's vulnerability to recurrent natural disasters due to climate change. But then huge loss of lives and damage to property due to disasters like landslides, flash floods and cyclones is yet to prompt the authorities to declare disaster preparedness a top national priority. The Ministry of Disaster Management is seemingly not strong enough with expertise and funds to deal with disasters effectively. There could also be a devastating earthquake, warned experts. But then where is the preparedness to deal with it? Hundreds of seminars and symposiums were held in the recent past to highlight the immediate need to demolish vulnerable buildings but to no avail.

The country has paid heavily for natural disasters in the past. According to the Comprehensive Disaster Management Program (CDMP), the country experienced over 200 natural disasters since 1980, leaving a total death toll of approximately 200,000 people and causing economic loss worth nearly $17 billion. Every year, Bangladesh incurs 1.8 per cent of GDP loss due to natural disasters. It is estimated that 14 per cent of the GDP is exposed to disasters. After the devastating cyclone of 1991, the concept of response, acting only after the occurrence, has undergone a total change towards response, recovery, rehabilitation and prevention, mitigation and preparedness. But there is still a long way to go before putting all of it into practice.

Arafat Hossain Shozol 

East West University

Rampura, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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