Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reducing the impact of cyclones in Bangladesh

A plan in Bangladesh to reduce the damage from revolving tropical storms, from the Daily Star (Dhaka), including some lessons learned from Cyclone Sidr: …The options to shield the plain lands of our coastal region against so great a force are few and expensive. What are these options?

First is to provide an early warning of cyclone and moving the coastal people to cyclone shelters. Thanks to the era of satellites now one can get upto date coverage of the movement of cyclone through global T.V. channels and web sites. While there is still a lot to cover in terms of accurately predicting, where exactly the centre of the cyclone will make landfall and what would be its intensity and impact, the major challenge is to convert this information into a timely evacuation plan.

On mid-day of Wednesday 14th November, 2007 many people were evacuated to the cyclone shelters because of the cyclone warning of Bangladesh Meteorological Department. The Storm Centre of BMD in its bulletin forecasted that Cyclone Sidr would make landfall by noon. According to Mr. Farhad Ahmed of Disaster Management Bureau, when the people who took shelter saw that cyclone had still not come, they thought it would not materialize and left the cyclone shelters for their homes. Many of these people fell victim to the fury of the cyclone.…

…There is dearth of cyclone shelters in the coastal region. Those that have been constructed (2,500) after the 1987 cyclone have worn out and require either major repairs or reconstruction. In densely populated areas, there should be bigger shelters. Existing government and public assets such as office buildings educational institutions, places of prayers should also be renovated to be used as cyclone shelters

Secondly, sea walls or cost effective earthen embankments along the coastline are good option to create defense against tidal bore. Sea walls will be equally effective against predicted sea level rise due to climate change. Instead of constructing sea walls entirely of concrete these could be made having concrete or brick lining on both sides with the hollow in the middle filled up by sand bags or just sand to make it a strong and effective barrier.

…Sunderbun forest has saved many lives and destruction of property from the battering wind of Cyclone Sidr. Other options for protection includes extension of present Sunderban forest, which can help create a natural barrier against cyclone…

…There is an acute need for an integrated coastal zone management plan, not only to integrate cyclone preparedness and protection measures with the development plan of the area but also to give priority to such measures. We have seen the vulnerability of the coastal people to frequent cyclones. Their ability to revive and stand up against natural calamities has become seriously compromised due to precarious condition of the coastal region. Environmental degradation such as disappearance of mangrove forest, wanton felling of trees and wetland encroachments are causing ecological disaster making it more difficult to face threats from climate change

Altafur Rahman is a Manager (Legal Department), National Housing Finance and Investments Ltd.

Cyclone Sidr making landfall in Bangladesh, from Naval Research Laboratory, US Navy, Wikimedia Commons

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