Season 3 Podcast 1: Disaster Risk Reduction

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In honour of the occasion of the International Day For Disaster Risk Reduction, in this edition of our podcast, we are exploring the topic of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). This week, we spoke to Paul Chamberlain, MOAS’ Logistics & Operations Coordinator, to tell us more about DRR and MOAS’ ongoing projects in Bangladesh involving the concept.


 

Hello and welcome to the MOAS podcast. 

In this edition of our podcast, we are discussing the topic of Disaster Risk Reduction, trying to understand its meaning, and exploring some examples of the concept being put into practice.     

Disasters often follow natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and volcanic activity, and their severity primarily depends on how much impact a hazard has on society and the environment. Traditionally, dealing with disasters has focused on emergency response, yet towards the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, it became increasingly recognized that disasters are not natural, even if the associated hazard is. However, since we cannot reduce the severity of natural hazards, the main opportunity for reducing risk lies in reducing vulnerability and exposure. And it is through this idea that the concept of Disaster Risk Reduction has emerged.    

We have specifically chosen to discuss the subject at this time because the 13th October marks the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was established in 1989 to provide an opportunity to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction. The international day recognizes how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raises awareness about the importance of decreasing the risks that they face.   

Considering these factors, and the occasion of International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, we wanted to explore the topic of DRR in more depth, and to do this, we asked some questions to our colleague Paul Chamberlain, MOAS’ Logistics & Operations Coordinator, who is currently working in Bangladesh managing all of MOAS’ ongoing projects, the majority of them regarding Disaster Risk Reduction.  

First of all, we asked Paul what do we mean by Disaster Risk Reduction, how does it work and why is it important?  

So Disaster Risk Reduction is much broader than traditional emergency management. Essentially, it’s a systematic approach to identifying, assessing and reducing the risks of a disaster. So how ever that disaster is caused, be it man-made, be it natural, be it weather-related, what it looks at doing is trying to reduce the vulnerabilities to disasters of communities, be they socio-economic or physical. Examples in Bangladesh for instance, given that Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries on earth, so simple things like ensuring that there are enough cyclone shelters for the population is a key part of the DRR program here in Bangladesh.  

Let’s focus now on Bangladesh, which Paul has already mentioned. What are the disaster threats and risk factors that make DRR so important in Bangladesh?  

As I mentioned earlier, Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries on Earth. It’s prone to earthquakes, tropical cyclones, tropical storms, and severe monsoon flooding. The monsoon flooding in itself and the cyclones trigger events such as landslides and serious floods. So, DRR is vital here in Bangladesh, because without it, given the fact that the country is still developing, without simple, effective DRR strategies, the population will become extremely vulnerable. Like I mentioned earlier, cyclone shelters are a simple and key component of the DRR strategy in Bangladesh.   

As well as cyclone shelters, we have seen much work conducted in and around the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and in and around the Cox’s Bazar district. We’ve seen improvements to infrastructure to allow a more rapid deployment of relief in the event of a disaster, we’ve seen construction of better, more sustained drainage channels to allow for flood waters to be moved away quickly. We’ve seen work on the coasts, we’ve seen for instance sea protection work going on, big canvas filled bags of sand, and concrete structures to reduce the effects of waves and the effects of cyclones. And as well as all these man-made attempts at DRR, we also see the planting of forests on the coastal belts in the attempt to slow down wind and to slow down erosion of the beaches. It’s not just about man-made interventions, it can be around human interventions. But what is also very important as well as the attempts to reduce the risk, it is the attempts to deal with any residual risk that may remain.    

Are there specific areas or people that are more impacted by these risks in Bangladesh?  

In terms of specific people impacted by risks here in Bangladesh, I don’t think it’s as simple as saying maybe the refugee community, or maybe the marginalised poor, I think everybody ultimately is affected by disaster here in Bangladesh because it is something so close to the kind of culture of the country. To give you an example, Bangladesh has the Cyclone Preparedness Programme, which is a network of 55,000 volunteers, it is the biggest volunteer-based emergency preparedness programme I believe in the world, currently. And the role of these volunteers is to warn the community about cyclones. So, they’re not just warning poor people to get out of the way, they are warning everybody that there is a cyclone coming and it is necessary to take action. Obviously, the people living closer to the coast are at greater risk of cyclones. Obviously, the people living on the banks of rivers are at greater risk of river flooding.  

Earlier this year, we had a situation where I believe around 66% of the country was flooded and this has ultimately led to 250 plus deaths this year alone, as a result of the flooding. And this is typical every year. Bangladesh is essentially built on a network of river deltas and suffers severe flooding every year. Economically this flooding has a huge effect on the farmers, causing a loss of crops, a loss of income, which has a knock-on effect on the ability of the country to even just feed itself, which sometimes it struggles with. It relies heavily on the support of NGOs, on the support of UN agencies to help it deal with the risks, but as a country it is trying incredibly hard to manage these risks and to mitigate against them. 

What are the measures taken in Bangladesh for DRR and by which responsible actors?  

In terms of measures taken in Bangladesh, I think I’ve covered quite a few already, with regards to flood prevention schemes, with regards to the building of rivers, the construction of drainage channels, and these big infrastructure projects are carried out primarily by UN agencies or the government. Within the refugee camps for example, what we’re seeing are a lot of similar types of projects in terms of projects to manage the effects of landslides and these have included slope stabilisation works, these have included the planting of grasses and trees, as well as work to manage the flow of water through the refugee camps and reduce the effect of flooding, and these are mainly conducted by site-management agencies. What we’re not seeing a lot of is actual projects to manage the aftermath of that disaster and to manage resilience amongst the communities. So, we’re seeing lots of attempts to reduce the risks but ultimately that is what they are doing, they are reducing the risks, they are not necessarily fully eliminating the risks from a disaster. 

Throw bag pic WM 

Let’s go into more depth on the work of MOAS. What is the role of MOAS in Disaster Risk Reduction in Bangladesh and what kind of projects are implemented?   

So, the MOAS approach to DRR is quite unique in that we’ve recognised that there are a lot of actors involved in attempting to reduce the risk but there are very few involved in actually trying to deal with the residual risk once that has been reduced and actually to build community resilience. We all know that after a disaster there will be a period time before organised help arrives, and we’ve seen that globally in natural disasters and man-made disasters.   

There is always that period of time between the impact of the event and the arrival of organised first responders and during that time the only responders are a combination of bystanders or members of the community. So what we’ve done is we’ve been working very hard with UN agencies and the CPP volunteers that are based in the camp and the CPP volunteers that are based in the host-community to try and upskill them so they are better equipped and better prepared to deal with the aftereffects of that disaster, and ultimately reduce that we call the disaster gap, reduce the time between organised help arriving and the actual disaster taking place.   

We recognised quite early on that just giving people the equipment was not necessarily the solution. The first problem was that the equipment we wanted, so throw bags and kind of life-rings weren’t available in Bangladesh. A throw bag is a simple bag of floating rope that is used globally, so if someone is in difficulty in the water, the rescuer can remain safe by staying on dry land, and they can throw the bag to the victim in the water and then pull them to safety. Even simple things like this weren’t available in Bangladesh so we set up a small manufacturing facility, we refined designs and we’re now producing our own rescue equipment for distribution amongst the communities that we work. And in addition to that, we are providing a source of income from the manufacture of this, we’re using local tailors to make this equipment for us, so they’re generating a small income from this sort of stuff.   

This year has been pretty difficult for us, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we had quite a lot of training planned. The country went into a lockdown in early April and that put a stop to our training programme. We were in a position whereby we couldn’t provide this training for a period of about four months. So, we’re now in September and we’re back training again, all be it with a few adjustments, we’ve had to reduce the group size that we work with. We are ensuring everybody wears masks, we’re ensuring that there’s hand sanitiser. So, we’ve tried our best to make the training as COVID secure as we can, and we’re very fortunate to have been able to run some guidelines passed WHO, who have offered us some support and advice to ensure that we are safe in delivering the training. We work very closely with BDRCS, which is the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, who again have been very, very supportive in terms of helping us start the training again and ensure that we’re COVID secure as we deliver it.  

The key time frame for us, obviously the period that COVID affected the country, the lockdown period if you like, was the critical monsoon period. We were very fortunate that this didn’t lead to any major loss of life or any major incidents this year. However, as we approach October, November, December, we’re approaching another cyclone season and we are very keen to ensure that we can complete this round of training before that cyclone season actually starts. This year in total, we will have trained in the region of 3,000 people in basic flood first responder, water rescue and safety skills.  

How would you like to expand this Flood and Water Safety Training project in the future?  

So how would we like to expand this. 2021 is hopefully going to allow us to expand this training. We are keen to expand our work with the host community and train more of the CPP volunteers in the Cox’s Bazar district, and again we’re very fortunate to have the support of the CPP in this. We’re also keen to expand our training in the refugee camps. So drowning has been identified as the 4th greatest reason for loss of life, so unnatural loss of life, following from murder and road traffic accidents and I believe COVID this year, drowning is the 4th greatest reason that people lose their lives in the Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh.  

We’re keen to expand the network of first responders, community level first responders and provide them with the knowledge and the equipment to affect rescue safely. If we have enough people, then there will hopefully always be someone around when they’re needed. So, Bangladesh is an incredibly populated country so there already is capacity here, there’s a lot of people but what they lack is capability so we’re trying to fill that gap by bringing the capability to support the capacity that they already have.  

Thank you, Paul, for that detailed overview on Disaster Risk Reduction and the efforts that are being made by MOAS and communities in Bangladesh to help reduce the risks being faced.    

If you are interested in finding out more about MOAS’ operations regarding DRR in Bangladesh check out our website at www.moas.eu. If you are interested in the work of MOAS and our partners, please follow us on social media, sign up to our newsletter and share our content. You can also reach out to us any time via email at info@moas.eu.    

If you would like to support our operations, please give what you can at www.moas.eu/donate/.   

And for final word, we are going to hand back over to Paul, take it away Paul…  

And I’d just like to leave you with the sound of the afternoon rain… 

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