|Volume 5 Issue 10| October 2011|
Disaster Resilient Habitat
A Concept beyond Cyclone Shelter
MUHAMMAD SELIM HOSSAIN
Bangladesh, the largest delta of the world, is a flat deltaic lush green tropical country. The unique geography of the territory has fetched both boon and bane for its human habitations in chorus. Floodplain dominated geomorphology and fresh water subjugated hydrology surprisingly prop up diverse ecosystems and consequently rich biodiversity shaping the livelihood stand of the bulk people. Bitterly, a number of hydro-geo-physical features like tropical geo-location and flat deltaic topography with sea-facing low elevation have pushed the coastal territory to extreme vulnerability of stronger disasters akin to cyclone, tidal surge, tsunami, beach erosion, salinity intrusion and the like. Exclusively, her coastal belt being funnel-shaped, most of the cyclones bred in the Bay rush to the coastal inland in due course. Again, slow but sure increase of sea-surface-temperature resulting from global warming helps spawn cyclones in the Bay with soaring rate of recurrence and intensity every year. Moreover, the prevalent socio-economic limitations like extreme poverty and less infrastructural development help reinforce casualty in any disaster crops up there. Hence, the coastal people very often have to face mayhem -- massive loss of life, untold long-term sufferings, and damage of property and environment.
The cyclones of 1970 and 1991 appallingly jog our memory of the fatality toll 1, 70,000 and 1, 38,866 correspondingly. Sidr, a category 4 cyclone with 200-240 km/hour wind speed, hit coastal Bangladesh on 15th November 2007. Not more than one and a half year later, Cyclone Aila batters the country's coastal area on 25 May 2009.
Interestingly, if we make a glance at the statistics of cyclone disasters in Bangladesh over the last three decades, it plainly destined that cyclone disaster casualty has, beyond doubt, experienced a considerable control resulting from undertaken different initiatives but human sufferings and economic loss are on the rise unabated. It also deserves the present global scenario as the existing literature reveals. Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (2011; Chapter-2, p.18) states,
“In recent decades, countries in all regions have strengthened their capacities to reduce mortality risks associated with major weather-related hazards such as tropical cyclones and floods. In contrast, economic loss risk to tropical cyclones and floods is growing as exposure of economic assets increases. Additionally, losses suffered by low-income households and communities are increasing rapidly.”
The backdrop essentially requires thinking of disaster management beyond the traditional fashions that imperatives a comprehensive disaster management exclusively focused on pre-disaster initiatives. Cyclone Shelter (CS) development has been one of the milestones in cyclonic disaster management in coastal Bangladesh which virtually contributes to reducing the casualty only, not economic loss or environmental damage. However, this write-up intends to look into the performance of the cyclone shelters in two immediately past devastating cyclones. Pertinently, it will explicate a new thought of disaster durable habitat and seek out the sustainable solution for a safer settlement against the cyclone and tidal surge under the emerging climate change scenario.
Cyclone Shelter (CS): development and performance
Homeless people at fury of Sidr, SOURCE: ISLAM, 2009
The pressing problems with cyclone shelter involve its management and maintenance. As the shelter is bulky engineering structure, it essentially needs well-management for ensuring its maximum efficacy. However, the problem includes who will take care of the shelter and who will keep the keys?
Will the keys-keeper be available at emergency? Or if the caretaker is monthly paid, it becomes a white elephant project for the government as most of the shelters don't have any other use and hence these stand on coastlines as abandoned sorry state. Besides, maintenance cost is higher as they are built in high salinity-concentrated areas.
Capacity of the shelters is awfully inadequate in comparison to the people (30 million) of the area these are to cover. According to Dr. Abdur Razzak, honorable Minister, Ministry of Food, and Disaster Management, at present, there are about 3000 cyclone shelters built through both private and public initiatives. It is possible for the government to boost its number to 5000 in the next 30 years if sufficient succor comes from the donors. Presently, the cyclone shelters have a capacity to accommodate only about 7.7% of coastal population (UNDP, 2009). Many of the hardcore poor have only one or a few cattle as the main source of livelihood. Having no provision for keeping cattle and other essential household assets in the shelter, they stay at home taking the highest risk of facing disaster irony.
The tender-aged victims of Sidr, SOURCE: ISLAM, 2009
The shelters are virtually devoid of separate provision and care for a section of the community people, especially for the pregnant, baby bearers, newborns, age-old males, females and the physically disabled who need a silent and ventilated spacious shelter and should get the highest priority there from a humanitarian point of view. But the environment of very high hue and cry of the overcrowded shelters extremely tells upon their physical and mental health. Young and adult females feel security problem and privacy crisis as well. Each shelter covers a wide range of human habitations. As a result, it is highly time-consuming and costly to reach the nearest shelter because of long distance. Besides, having no good communication and transport system also discourages them to be bound for shelter and many of them take risk to stay back. Sense of resource insecurity is also a factor. Many marginal families feel insecurity and possibility of theft of household resources to go to the shelters leaving them at homestead.
Almost all the cyclone shelters except the recently built ones are devoid of sufficient water and sanitary facilities. As a result, the sheltered have to suffer a lot and have to stand on long queue even to response to nature's call that results in occurrence of different types of urinary and belly troubles. Sometimes the local influential use the shelters thoughtlessly making the shelter-environment unhygienic for living by a vast population at emergency.
Experience of cyclone shelter in cyclone Sidr:
Having no provision for cattle haven, many of the hardcore poor families did not will for shelters as they didn't want to leave behind their cattle being only source of livelihood. Besides, poor women headed households, families having physically handicapped persons, old and disabled living far away were not interested to move for safer shelters. Again, a section of the people couldn't trust the latest warning as previous ones repeatedly went missed. Besides, many a shelter buildings are crumbling and unsafe to live in.
Experience gathered during cyclone Sidr strongly entails that cyclone shelter can't be the best solution in cyclone-disaster management as it can't address all of the crying needs. In addition, the houses they possess are of poor structure and are no more cyclones-resilient. Their lives and livelihoods are not secured; rather fully depend on the mercy of nature. Moreover, number of cyclone shelters is not sufficient for the huge population of the coastal belt. That is, there is a need for seeking an option beyond it.
A cyclone shelter in coastal region, SOURCE: MALLICK, 2009
In the backdrop, M. Aminul Islam, Head of Disaster Management Department, UNDP-Bangladesh, shared their initiative towards a sustainable solution beyond the cyclone shelter approach and finally developed a concept entitled, Disaster Resilient Habitat (DRH), a community-managed disaster mitigation approach with comprehensive risk reduction and adaptation interventions that can reduce vulnerability and can provide more secured and dignified living for the coastal poor.
CS & DRH: a comparative scenario
Livelihood: Shelter can hardly create livelihood options for the poor. At cyclone Sidr, almost all of the affected people lost their livelihoods. Dissimilarly, it is possible to establish livelihood options for the poor families in the disaster resilient cluster settlements. For example, the palm tree plantation in the vulnerable side to protect the wind and tidal surge impact will produce oil for the poor families. There will have a common grazing field in each of settlements as livestock raising is one of the main livelihood options of the coastal hardcore poor. Besides, there may be medium and mini size dairy farm, pond for aquaculture, backyard farm, and common production center like handloom, tailoring, handicrafts, bakery, kitchen garden, eco-tourism, forestation etc. Besides, the other whets of “asset pentagon” model would be introduced in these cluster settlements. The best livelihood advantage is that the families will need no relocating from their present livelihood options. To the contrary, cyclone shelter essentially causes people relocate leaving their traditional livelihoods.
Community-based Management: Formal approaches to mitigation initiated by public sector have often been inefficient and at times have left people more vulnerable. Cyclone shelter is undoubtedly a formal mitigation approach, not a community-based one. The shelters are built by both GOs and NGOs. The community uses it at crises and faces numerous difficulties. Consequently it can't achieve very high social acceptance. By contrast, DRH is a community-managed disaster mitigation programme based on highly participatory approach where the coastal vulnerable can have an excellent opportunity to reduce their vulnerabilities to disasters applying their own traditional technology and indigenous knowledge along with the modern ones. For an instance, the highest priority has been given to owner's choice in housing design and selecting materials to be used. Primarily, the individual household has developed model of their own house. Later, the engineers have examined the model's feasibility and considered accordingly.
Poor friendly & structural safety: The targeted community in DRH approach is internally displaced people, asset-less coastal poor who have to starve for long after stricken by any natural disaster particularly cyclone and storm surge and who have no option than to be relocated and find a new livelihood. DRH is based on 100 years cyclone tolerating and salinity proof structures.
Low carbon technology: The disasters pliable habitats will be designed to use low carbon emitting and renewable energy like solar energy, biogas, air to water technology and even wind power for meeting household energy needs including lightening, cooking, heating, running TV, freeze, fan, and the like. It will also have structural design suitable for rain water harvesting.
Social development interventions: DRH will have provisions for social infrastructures like schools, health care center, mosque and other religious institutions, community centers, common recreational facilities, Eidgah, and daily bazar. The communities may explore the possibilities of tapping local tourism opportunities. The UNDP, through the Parjatan Corporation may initiate a “Tourism for Rural Poverty Alleviation in Coastal Vulnerable Zones” programme.
Land and water management: Land and water are generally treated as precious resources. Accordingly, the new settlement design will protect the natural and beneficial functions of flood plains, wetlands, and coastal areas. It will incorporate natural mitigation programs of flooding.
Warning system: Cyclone shelter concept is very sensitive to cyclone warning. If cyclone warning goes missing repeatedly, people lose reliance and trust in warning system and later they don't response to warning as usual. When they don't attend the shelters and cyclone occurs, they face massive loss of life and property. The DRH itself will have a warning system which will provide proper early warning of cyclone, tidal surge, and other coastal disasters.
Reduce infrastructure vulnerability: To minimize infrastructural vulnerabilities, DRH intends to model the impacts of disasters and other events in 100 years affecting the infrastructures. It is to examine the interaction between wind and inundation to determine the impact on building foundations and critical infrastructures and carry out focus research on new mitigation technologies for the purposes of avoidance, resistance, rapid repair, and restoration of critical infrastructures.
Coastal regional planning: Strategies for coastal regional planning are necessary which attain a concentration of settlement within a poly-centric structure, an optimized building density and density of population, a variety and mix of coastal land use, private and public spaces with high ecological and social quality and a transport system compatible with the environment. This kind of settlement structure will support the prevention of environmental hazards occurrence and mitigate their negative effects concurrently.
DRH in practice elsewhere
Existing limitations and suggested actions: As DRH has been thought of as a sustainable alternative to existing cyclone shelter concept, it should be forwarded through much thinking and should be a highly community-based integrated disaster risk reduction initiative that takes every thing related to life and livelihood of the coastal people into account including local geography, geology, hydrology, culture, geomorphology, climatology, economic activities, societal norms, values, structures, disaster coping capacity, gender issues, traditions and customs. However, the concept should also address the following issues to minimize its negative and maximizing its positive effects at its implementation processes.
* The concept should be shared with all relevant stakeholders including government and non-government agencies, development partners, researchers and academics. And of course opinion must be taken from target people in the vulnerable coastal areas.
* Before going to implementation, it is imperative to explore what are the issues, concerns, incentives, or barriers towards making DRH a successful story.
* If disaster resilient habitat is to make a sustainable solution beyond cyclone shelter, it must possess a holistic approach focusing on the local community; have existing resources based adaptive capacity building measures and mainstream disaster risk reduction in development plan and process so that it may eventually become a self-sustainable habitat.
* In fact, community-managed settlements require participation of all including architects, engineers, sociologists, masons, poets, carpenters, development practitioners, doctors, planners, economists, anthropologists, landscape architects, religious and local leaders and after all local community. However, in the disaster resiliency process, it should be ensured the best.
* Despite significant progress in the application of science and technology to disaster reduction, communities remain challenged by disaster preparation, response, and recovery. These observations underscore the need for a dedicated national effort to provide science-based information towards the reduction of the social, economic, and environmental costs of natural hazards to our coastal communities.
Model of a Disaster Resilient Habitat for the disasters vulnerable coastal Bangladesh
* Agricultural adaptation should get the highest priority in the domain of comprehensive adaption process like change in crop calendar and crop selection, diversification of crops, development of salinity and submergence loving short duration crop varieties, optimum use of fallow lands and finally adaptive change in the overall land management.
* As Bangladesh is one of the most climate change affected countries of the world, she may have DRH test model for future village which can be resilient for natural disasters.
* Through proper education and training, the vulnerable locals should be turned into disasters combating human resources. Livelihood based skill training offered to the people may be one of the best tools in this regard. Besides, the syllabus of both adult learning and formal education should incorporate understanding of disaster risk reduction preparedness.
Muhammad Selim Hossain is a young researcher at Unnayan Onneshan and writes on climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation and disaster management issues to The Daily Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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