The People's Republic of Bangladesh borders the bay of Bengal, between Burma and India. Etymologically, the word Bangladesh is derived from the cognate vanga, which literally means wetland. It occupies the delta where the rivers Padma, Brahmaputra, Meghna and their tributaries meet and drain into the Bay of Bengal. The total catchments area of these rivers is 1.7 million sq km, but as much as 93% of this area lies outside Bangladesh, in India, Nepal, China and Bhutan.
The annual rainfall ranges from 2300--5000 mm. Such a wet environment creates arable land, and therefore the economy is traditionally agrarian. However the silt-laden, unstable land makes it vulnerable to frequent monsoons and floods. Formally known as East Pakistan, Bangladesh won independence after a brief war in 1971.
The main disasters that strike Bangladesh are floods, tropical cyclones and landslides.
Floods are an annual occurrence in Bangladesh. The four main kinds of natural flood affecting Bangladesh are flash floods, river floods, rainwater floods, and storm surges. Many floods are attributed to human activities too.
Flash floods are caused by run-off during exceptionally heavy rainfall occurring over neighboring upland areas. They occur most frequently at the foot of the northern and eastern hills, sometime several times a year. They are also common along the Teesta, Atrai and little Jamuna rivers in the northwest and in valleys within upland regions. Flash floods rise and fall rapidly, usually within a few days. The may also flow rapidly along river channels and over the land. Water levels in some eastern rivers can rise by several meters within 24-28 hours. They do not however cause extensive damage to crops and property.
River floods result from snow melt in the high Himalayas and heavy monsoon rainfall over the Himalayas, the Assam and the Tripura Hills and the upper Brahmaputra and Ganges floodplains, outside Bangladesh. River floods extend beyond the active floodplains and damage crops on parts of the adjoining meander floodplain, mainly alongside distributary channels. However the timing and duration of the floods are important determinants of crops damage. Sediments deposited in channels reduce the drainage canals. Severe floods, which cause extensive damage to crops and property, occur at average intervals of 7-10 years.
Rainwater floods are caused by heavy rainfall occurring over floodplain and terrace areas within Bangladesh. Heavy pre-monsoon rainfall between the months of April and May causes local run-off to accumulate in floodplain depressions and in the lower parts of valleys within the Madhupur Tract. Later, between the months of June and August, local rainwater is increasingly `ponded` on the land by the rising water levels in adjoining rivers. Rainwater flooding is characteristic of meander floodplains, major floodplain basins, and old estuarine floodplains. Early floods can cause damage to rice and jute crops.
Man-made floods are caused mainly by the sudden breaching on an embankment at a time when there is a difference in elevation of several meters between the external river level and the land inside the embankment. It can also be caused by the release of water from dams at high rates, failure of a major dam or barrage on one of the major rivers or their tributaries and ponding of water behind road, railway and flood embankments following heavy rainfall.
Cyclones Due to the geographic location of Bangladesh, severe cyclones are common in the 710 km long coastal belt and cause vast damage to life and property. In April 1991 flooding occurred due to tidal surges caused by a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal causing the death of about 140,000 people and damage is storm surges: raised sea levels caused by a combination of the low barometric pressure and strong onshore winds associated with tropical cyclones. The cars sudden but temporary flooding of coastal areas with seawater or brackish estuarine water for a few kilometers inland during the passage of cyclones and are responsible for most of the casualties caused by cyclones. Flood caused by cyclones and the mitigation measures they require differ from those occurring on the river floodplains.
Droughts are common in Bangladesh. They affect water supplies and plant growth leading to loss of production, food shortages and starvation. In comparison with floods and especially cyclones, droughts are slow to manifest themselves and are relatively more pervasive. Depending on the intensity of drought, the estimated yield reduction of different corps varies from 10% to 70%. Drought tends to affect western districts more severely, especially when the monsoon is curtailed. It is estimated that in 1983 drought affected 10 million people.
Bangladesh at present has an elaborate disaster management system from national down to Union level. The system has taken the concept of disaster mitigation on board, discarding the old concept of relief and rehabilitation.
The structure of the Bangladesh Disaster Management System comprises:
- Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MDMR)
- Disaster Management Bureau (DMB)
- National Disaster Management Council (NDMC)
- Inter-Ministerial Disaster Management Coordination Committee (IMDMCC)
- National Disaster Management Advisory Committee (NDMAC)
- District, Upazila and Union Disaster Management Committees
This structure supports policy formulation and coordination of disaster management at national level. The focal point for disaster-related issues in the Ministry of Disasters Management and Relief (MDMR). The Disaster Management Bureau (DMB) assists the Ministry with information, in all phases of disasters. The Ministry supplies information to NDMC and IMDJMCC and assists them in taking decisions. The NDMC, headed by the Prime Minister, formulates policies and guidelines on disaster management. The Secretary of the Ministry coordinates the activities of all officials directly and indirectly engaged in emergency relief work. Bangladesh is the only South Asian country to have set up a separate ministry for disaster management and relief.
Bangladesh has taken steps to move from disaster response towards concepts of disaster management involving prevention/ mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery and development. This is reflected in action such as:
- Documentation of physical and social aspects of natural hazards in areas most susceptible to neural hazards, and development of a hazard index for each Thana and District.
- Initiation to the project Support to Comprehensive Disaster Management with support from UNDP and UNICF for training, planning and institutional build-up covering 19 high-risk flood-prone and cyclone-prone districts. This project aims at:
- Strengthening disaster management through support to disaster management committees at District, Thana and Union levels.
- Provision of relevant operational guidelines in the form of a disaster management handbook.
- Improvement of warning systems.
- Building up awareness at all levels of society on reducing disaster risk and losses.
The Government of Bangladesh has initiated both structural and non-structural measures for disaster mitigation. The structural mitigation measures include construction of over 1840 cyclone and 200 flood shelters, construction of 3,900 km of coastal embankments and construction of drainage channels extending 4,774 km.
The non-structural mitigation action includes legislation, training and public awareness raising, institution building and warning system. A Disaster Management Legislation act has been drafted, which gives provision for the formulation of disaster management policy and planning relating to preparedness, emergency measures, and rehabilitation programmes.
The Disaster Management Bureau (DMB) has been conducting and public awareness programmes for all stakeholders, which include government and officials, public representatives, NGO officials, local leaders, representatives and communities.
The Government of Bangladesh has also taken steps to improve the early warning capabilities of relevant government organizations such as the Storm Warning Center, Flood Forecasting and Waning Center, and Bangladesh Water Development Board.
To maintain coordination amongst the Ministries and other line agencies concerned, the Government of Bangladesh has formulated a set of mechanisms. The guidelines, the Standing orders on Disaster, have been introduced as a basic tool in this regard.
The country has been experiencing the severe adverse effect of natural disasters on development efforts over long time. Thus, its overall development plans recognize the linkages with disaster management. The draft plan for the period 1995-2010 suggests the establishment of National Environmental policy, National Environmental Management Action Plan, Bangladesh Water and Flood Management Strategy, and Flood Action Plan Studies.
In addition, there are orders from the Prime Minister to prepare three kinds of physical plan: for cyclone-prone areas, flood-prone areas and Normal areas.
The main gaps experienced are in the areas of:
- Collaboration in getting timely provision of meteorological and hydrological information from neighboring countries for cyclone and flood forecasting.
- Overall coordination between government institutions and NGOs, and plans for efficient and systematic management of disaster.
- Public awareness at the grass-roots level
- Finance and commitment of governments of neighboring countries, particularly India and Nepal.
Links and sources
The main source for this section is: Shamsul Islam, Country Report, Bangladesh 1999. Asian Disaster Reduction Center, Japan