Crab risk reduction in Bangladesh!

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Office in Incheon for Northeast Asia and Global Education and Training Institute for Disaster Risk Reduction
Disaster Risk Manager Mahmudur Rahman  said that those people who had strong traditional knowledge of living on the coast had built houses that survived Cyclone Sidr, the worst of recent storms. (Photo: UNISDR)
Disaster Risk Manager Mahmudur Rahman said that those people who had strong traditional knowledge of living on the coast had built houses that survived Cyclone Sidr, the worst of recent storms. (Photo: UNISDR)

INCHEON, 27 November 2014 – The Hyogo Framework for Action has been an important guide to disaster risk managers working to build resilience on one of the world’s most exposed and vulnerable coasts.

Mahmudur Rahman, who has been responsible for disaster risk management for the coastal district of Barguna, Bangladesh, for eight years, said the HFA’s focus on good disaster risk governance and preparedness had acted as an important reference for significant improvements witnessed in his country.

The Additional Deputy Commissioner has literally worked in the eye of several storms. His memories of Cyclone Sidr in 2007 are particularly strong.

“What we learnt from Sidr was the importance to protect local livelihoods. We have looked at how to build protective areas for livestock as for many people their animals are their livelihoods and they will not leave them unless they know they will be safe,” Mr Rahman said. “We also looked at creating safe harbours on inland canals whereby fishermen could store their boats and fishing gear.

“The Government has also improved its plans and taken several good decisions. For instance, any government-funded structure, such as primary schools, that is now built on the coast has to meet certain standards to withstand hazards and be able to double up as cyclone shelters,” Mr Rahman said.

The Additional Deputy Commissioner also highlighted the importance of indigenous knowledge drawing on a powerful reflection from Sidr: “In our sub-district of Amtali almost 500 people were killed by the cyclone yet among the Rakhaine community there were no deaths.

“The reason is the Rakhaine people have a strong knowledge of living on the coast and build their houses with strong timber frames with the lower floor three metres above the ground. This kept them safe from the storm surge.

“On the other hand, people whose families are originally from the plains do not have such knowledge and it has proved difficult to change their building culture.”

Mr Rahman urges global policymakers to encourage a stronger marriage between indigenous knowledge and modern technical expertise. “Let me give an example: when I was working in a different sub-district inland, our engineers could not understand why several of our (mud-built) dykes were collapsing during flash floods when they should not be,” he said.

“The engineers then turned to local people who told them simply ‘it’s the crabs’. What was happening is that crabs were tunneling underneath the dykes and water would leak through the small tunnels which would then become wider leading to the dyke collapse. The engineers had no idea about this.

“Local people told the engineers to compact the foundations very tightly before constructing dykes and there will be no problem. They were right. Too often we rely on expert technical knowledge alone; we should aim for an ideal mix of community knowledge enhanced with technical knowledge.”

The issues that Mr Rahman highlights all fall under priority areas of the current draft of the post-2015 international framework for disaster risk reduction, namely: understanding disaster risk reduction; strengthened social, economic, cultural, environmental resilience; and better preparedness for recovery and reconstruction.

The draft is due to be finalized in the coming months and be adopted at the Third UN World Conference in Japan, in March 2015.

Cyclone Sidr, a category 5 storm, hit Bangladesh in November 2007. Government figures say more than 4,000 people were killed and 8 million people were affected.

Mr Rahman was sharing his insight at a ‘Developing Capacities on Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction’ forum on Jeju Island in the Republic of Korea. The event is being hosted by the International Training Centre for Local Actors (CIFAL), and facilitated by UNISDR’s Global Education Training Institute for DRR (GETI) based in Incheon.

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