Incorporating Disaster Risk Reduction into Development Projects in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has undergone significant progress in human development over the last 20 years. However, Bangladesh’s location and population density make it one of the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters and the impacts of sea-level rise. A highly densely populated country, it has great pressure on its land and natural resources. In addition, it is one of the world’s most low-lying countries and highly vulnerable to flooding. Through a range of research approaches, this study assesses the current status of disaster resilience in Bangladesh, the types of disaster resilience initiative currently being integrated into development projects or used as stand-alone, and some of the barriers to implementing these projects. From this research, a framework is proposed to assess the disaster resilience of development programmes. Through the use of this tool, two programmes incorporating disaster resilience are assessed - BRAC's Disaster, Environment and Climate Change Programme in the coastal regions affected by Cyclone Alia; and the DFID-funded Chars Livelihoods Programme currently underway in the northern chars. Through analysing these case studies, the impacts of each programme are evaluated and suggestions made. Between 1980 and 2009, floods and cyclones affected almost 300,000 million people in Bangladesh, and Cyclone Sidr in 2007 and Cyclone Aila in 2009 have been the latest major storms in a sequence that has been steadily increasing in frequency, and the impacts of climate change are also predicted to increase the magnitudes of the seasonal monsoon flooding. Whilst initiatives such as the Cyclone Preparedness Programme have helped to reduce immediate fatalities, the long-term impacts of these disasters have proven to be far more challenging to mitigate. Long-term impacts often include long-term flooding, increased salinity of water due to tidal surges or broken defensive embankments, and a lack of fresh water, alongside damaged infrastructure and threatened livelihoods. These challenges have led to the development of varied approaches designed to deal with the direct and indirect impacts of flooding, including infrastructure solutions, climate-adaptive livelihoods and economic measures, community capacity building and disaster preparedness. Whilst traditional approaches to resilience often involved infrastructure measures such as embankments or plinth-building, in recent years these have fallen out of favour towards more livelihoods-based approaches.
The research shows that infrastructure projects such as plinths and embankments do come with risks but in many cases are necessary to improve people's lives and their resilience to future disasters. Further work on embankments, and in particular, repairs of old embankments, has the potential to reduce the risk of flooding and salinity intrusion and protect communities. However, it is vital that full needs assessments and consideration to all issues is given before any large-scale infrastructure projects move forward. Small-scale infrastructure such as plinth building is less risky, whilst still having the potential to help protect housing and lands. Some of the large NGOs have a massive country-wide capacity, and there is a strong opportunity for them to expand to support these areas. The importance of considering social issues even in seemingly simple projects is also vital - for example, women can find it difficult to use cyclone shelters if separate spaces and bathroom facilities aren't provided for separate genders. It was also shown that non-tangible skills such as community capacity building and individual training can strongly help people improve their resilience to disasters, and can also help them to rebuild their lives after disasters. Findings also show that when implementing development programmes, it is vital that suitable consideration is given to disaster risk reduction initiatives, and consideration given to the potential impacts of a disaster. Implementing livelihoods projects or other initiatives without suitable consideration given to potential risks means that the long-term impacts of the projects may be lost if another disaster occurs. In all, there is no one route forward to integrating disaster resilience and different situations will require various approaches, but it is imperative that suitable thought is given to this issue in order to maximise the long-term benefits of development projects.