Prioritise weather forecasting and early warning for local communities
by Md. A. Halim Miah, Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan and Dr. Faruk Ul Islam
Disaster management in Bangladesh has been transformed from disaster response and recovery to a risk reduction model. However though policy and law have been formulated based on the risk reduction model, policy priority is still required in many areas both in quality and quantitative improvement, such as shifting risk governance from centralized systems to people’s empowerment and redirecting disaster investment from response and recovery model to pre-disaster investment.
Why more investment at pre-disaster stage?
Bangladesh spent a lot in the last two decades on disasters. One flood in 1998 caused an estimated loss of US$ 2 billion – 4.8 % of national GDP. This figure might even be higher as loss and damage estimates focus on infrastructure and bigger public institutions and less on those of small entrepreneurs and small holder farmers.
This loss and damage will increase if we do not invest in prevention measures such as community resilience building, critical infrastructure like dams, embankments, bio-dykes, green belts and the dissemination of risk information for the people live in vulnerable areas.
According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report the frequency and intensity of hazards will increase with greater risk particularly for developing nations. Bangladesh has achieved remarkable progress in some social indices like health, primary education, poverty reduction and in some areas of disaster related emergency response. Therefore mortality and morbidity from disasters have reduced significantly.
Redirect financing from disaster response to development
The total GNP of Bangladesh is growing. At independence (1972-73) the total annual budget of Bangladesh was 7.8 billion (£78.5 million) but for the fiscal year 2016-17 it is 3.41 trillion taka (£34 billion). Bangladesh has a growing national economy and wealth and GDP per capita rose from US$2,038.7 in 2006 to US$3,136.6 in 2016.
The World Wealth Report also shows that in 2000 the assets per head of adult men in Bangladesh were worth US$1069 and this has more than doubled to US$ 2347 in 2016. The rate of national poverty was 62% in 1992, which came down to 32% in 2010. But a very few of those who came out from poverty the ‘movers out of poverty’- could become part of the economic middle class (the range of income $2 to $4).
According to renowned economist Binayak Sen, Director, Research, Bangladesh Development Studies in Bangladesh , the movers who are stuck in the range of $1 to $2 a day income are still vulnerable to shocks and downward slippages (Sen, Binayak; June 2014, ICE Business, Dhaka). This is a vicious cycle of income erosion where disasters like floods that recur pull those people behind so that they can not climb up the ladder. Studies reveal that investment in strengthening weather, climate and water information services is highly cost efficient for societal progress returning three times as much as monetary investment according to the CREWS Initiative.
Practical Action Bangladesh has implemention experience under Vulnerability to Resilience+, financed by the Zurich Insurance Group. We found that by disseminating flood early warning messages to the community in understandable ways, flood vulnerable people living downstream of Brahmaputra basin were able to save their most valuable household and agricultural resources.
We conducted a rapid assessment on the impact of flood early warning voice messages just after the flood which occurred in July –August 2016. Our preliminary findings revealed that people’s indigenous knowledge did not work.
“The saying goes, if cloud passes from south-west to north-east we would think that the river Jamuna will be raised. But this year we could not understand the possibility of flooding. Therefore voice messaging was very important. Among my neighbours around ten farmers were able to harvest their jute when they got flood early warning voice messages with a minimum financial value of 9,000 taka (£90) for each. Those of us who live island like places, very close to the river evacuated with our cattle saving a minimum of household value of 100,000 taka (£1,000). So if voice messages cost 20 taka household then its return is more than 1000 times higher!”
This is an example of how improving early warning systems for vulnerable people can save them from the vicious cycle of income erosion and enable them to continue to climb the steps of the ladder with the aim of reaching the gateway from poverty.