Disaster, Environment & Climate Change
Bangladesh is widely recognised as a country that is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, due to its geographical position and low-lying flat topography. Within the past 15 years, the country has experienced an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. A lack of awareness and coordination among the people of Bangladesh about disaster preparedness, climate change, and its impact on the environment and human lives has made the Bangladeshi population even more susceptible to the effects of natural disasters.
Providing relief to disaster victims was one of BRAC’s first missions when it started out. Emerging from the need to address disaster management more effectively, the Disaster, Environment and Climate Change (DECC) programme was born in 2008. Since then, it has been working to minimise the effects of climate change and reduce the vulnerability of exposed populations, thus helping Bangladesh become a disaster resilient country. With the aim to improve the country’s coping ability to natural disasters, DECC is working to build capacity and competence, both at the institutional and community level.
The Disaster, Environment and Climate Change programme (DECC) of BRAC began with the following objectives:
• To enhance BRAC’s institutional capacity to respond to natural disasters
• Build capacity at the community level on disaster risk reduction
• Increase adaptability and coping ability in natural disasters by conducting predictive research information transfer and education in relation to environment, climate change and natural disasters
In order to enhance BRAC’s institutional capacity, the most significant initiative taken by DECC has been the compilation of the Standard Operation Procedures. It holds a set of disaster management protocols during an emergency in order to ensure quick response and effectiveness. DECC has also conducted trainings for BRAC staff from all levels in order to streamline and professionalise disaster management.
The programme has also taken many initiatives to address building community capacity. Trainings have been conducted at the grassroots level and community outreach efforts to spread awareness have also been implemented. Moreover, disaster resilient structures in the southern-most regions of the country have been built, further equipping the community to tackle disaster impacts. Alongside, an efficient weather forecasting system also plays a major role in disaster risk reduction.
Increasing adaptability and coping ability is also an important measure that is being addressed in various ways. Relief assistance is highly prioritised for disaster-affected areas after the emergency. Alternative livelihood options are given to vulnerable households in order to ensure sustainable living. Additionally, access to safe water and sanitation support is another important activity. DECC is also giving psycho-social training in order to provide counselling for trauma victims, with a special focus on children.
1. Standard Operation Procedures
DECC’s biggest contribution towards enhancing organisational capacity has been the development of the Standard Operation Procedures, as a part of the Emergency Preparedness and Capacity Development initiative, to be shared with the wider BRAC community. Stemming out of the Bangladeshi government’s existing Standing Order on Disasters, the SOP is an empowering tool with instructions to respond quickly and efficiently, cushioning the impact when disaster strikes.
On January 2010, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) signed an agreement with BRAC USA to support the Disaster, Environment and Climate Change (DECC) programme of BRAC Bangladesh to develop and implement the formulation of the Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) for disaster management. This Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) for BRAC Bangladesh is a set of protocols that shall be followed before, during and after disaster for different hazards. The purpose of this set of guidelines target the maximisation of efficiency and effectiveness of all necessary actions across different phases of a disaster. It also aims at maximising resources by addressing issues and concerns on disaster management.
The SOP thus strengthens BRAC’s emergency response system by professionalising the management of disasters, which are recurrent in the low-lying Bangladesh. Through it, an Incident Command System has been established that includes procedural instructions for all levels starting from Head Office staff to individual field staff and programme volunteers. As a result, there has been a paradigm shift allowing staff at all levels to independently make situational decisions during emergencies without waiting for top-down orders.
In order to embed and embody the guidelines set by DECC’s Standard Operation Procedures, which are being mainstreamed into other facets of BRAC programmes, DECC has also developed an SOP in Bengali, flyers with SOP practices laid out in layman’s terms and video training manuals on the SOP to be circulated among BRAC staff and the greater community which will further reinforce the messages.
2. Capacity Building Trainings
BRAC staff members have been trained in the SOP procedures, and its health workers and health volunteers have received first aid and disaster management skills, in order to provide the community with emergency support in a time of crisis. DECC also provided trainings to BRAC schoolteachers, Village Organisation leaders, and community leaders, all of whom represent individuals who are usually recognised as first responders during a natural disaster.
Moreover, simulations or reinforcement exercises were conducted that recreated disaster scenarios with audio and visual effects in which representative participants from the entire communities enacted disaster protocols to better prepare for an actual disaster situation. In addition, professional level courses were provided for BRAC staff and high government officials at BRAC University in order to develop an expert team to tackle emergency situations in Bangladesh.
3. Updated Weather Forecasting System
In order to ensure the rapid dissemination of information on weather patterns, DECC has taken a host of measures to update its offices and the community with real time data on weather patterns. In order to develop an early warning system, DECC has made technological improvements that allow for more accurate and up-to-date weather updates to reach BRAC staff efficiently.
Fourteen weather stations covering 22 agro-ecological zones, of which five have already been built, are to be set up in partnership with Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD), allowing DECC to update various beneficiaries, so that they can plan their activities according to weather conditions. A software called iCRESS, or the Integrated Collaboration and Rapid Emergency Support Services has been developed. With the help of text-messaging and the internet, it collects and distributes real time data on weather conditions and other emergencies to the wider community all over the country. It also allows DECC to make daily situation reports on weather conditions that are disseminated to BRAC staff to help them prepare accordingly for emergencies.
Moreover, to continue delivery on updated weather forecasting as agreed upon by 2011’s MoU signed between BRAC and the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia (RIMES) DECC collects daily situation reports from RIMES and various other sources which are then distributed to beneficiary groups. This has allowed all kinds of stakeholders within the BRAC networks to receive flood and cyclone warnings, but also cold fronts; heat waves; heavy rainfall; dry spells; and other climatic events that allow them to make necessary preparations.
4. Infrastructural Support
Furthermore, DECC has taken up various infrastructure projects to help combat the after-effects of natural disasters. It has also constructed 43 disaster resilient housing and a disaster resilient school in collaboration with BRAC University by using local materials and indigenous knowledge. All of these buildings simultaneously serve the purpose of community cyclone shelters during emergencies to protect people’s lives and assets. Situated in one of the most disaster-prone areas in the southern part of Bangladesh, these structures have enabled the villagers from Paddapukur to lead more secure and resilient lives.
Additionally, BRAC is ensuring the availability of safe water among the vulnerable and affected people in cyclone prone areas. BRAC imported two desalinisation plants for the coastal zone of Bangladesh. The desalinisation plant can ensure clean and safe water both before and after natural disasters considering the propensity, intensity and frequency of cyclone or flood.
5. Alternative Livelihood
As part of its strategies to ensure adaptability, DECC emphasises in providing sustainable long-term solutions as opposed to providing short-term reactive strategies by providing alternate livelihood options like cultivation of saline resistant rice, fish farming and crab fattening. The programme emphasises on giving importance to women centric households and other such vulnerable groups in a community.
As a part of economic recovery, DECC worked with the Aila-affected communities to rebuild livelihoods through the adoption of new technologies. Initially DECC provided financial and technical support to enhance food availability which included alternative livelihood opportunities in the affected areas. To deal with salinity in the soil, BRAC introduced new high yielding saline tolerant rice and maize varieties in this region to restore food security and social safety nets. DECC programme provided support for fish farming and crab fattening to restore their livelihood. These alternative livelihoods help people to restore their livelihoods as well as contribute to the development process.
6. Relief Assistance
Since inception, BRAC has had veteran experience in providing relief to disaster-affected rural poor. As a continuation of that legacy, the programme implements relief distribution during emergencies for disaster victims on a need based assessment, giving priority to women, children, the elderly and the physically challenged. Provision of relief has also been a key agenda for DECC. During peak emergency, relief packages include daily essentials needed for survival. The programme also prioritises long-term sustainable solutions that allow victims to be self-sufficient, as was in the case of Aila. The provision of livelihood opportunities for the self-sustenance of ultra-poor thus forms a crucial component of DECC’s disaster resilience strategy.
Although a reactive measure, relief assistance is a major component of the programme for a country that is frequently affected by natural disasters. Recently, DECC mobilised resources for relief distribution in cyclone affected Hatiya and Subornochar, as well as landslide affected areas in Cox’s Bazaar and Bandarban.
Furthermore, the programme has been providing water and sanitation assistance alongside different forms of advocacy and structural support to provide aid to disaster affected communities. It installed latrines for sanitation and waste management, assisted with health support and shelter facilities and provided alternative livelihood opportunities in affected areas. It also distributes relief prioritising child and woman headed households; families headed by seniors or handicapped persons and women who are breastfeeding or pregnant.
7. Community Outreach
As a part of its community outreach efforts, DECC actively engages in community outreach efforts to put disaster preparedness throughout the wider rural communities in operation at the risk-prone areas. For example, it has developed one page leaflets for BRAC staff, health promoters, teachers and community leaders that act as a simple reference tool for the SOP, allowing quick response during a disaster situation and ensuring better knowledge retention.
To specifically address education on disaster preparedness for children, who represent one of the most vulnerable groups to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, DECC is designing a rapid reader in collaboration with BRAC Education Programme. The rapid reader will simplify the various measures and issues concerning disaster resilience by incorporating an interactive storytelling style and colourful cartoons that will make it easier for children to conceptualise. DECC also works very closely with BRAC school teachers to educate children on disaster preparedness, since the next generation plays a very important role as information gatekeepers in their communities.
Another important initiative that will especially focus on children will be the introduction of psycho-social trainings for trauma victims of disasters. This is a rather untouched measure in Bangladesh, so DECC will be tapping into a completely new territory. By giving training on how to analyse symptomatic behaviour of a patient’s past experiences and struggles, this project will be providing counselling services for disaster victims, thus facilitating their return to normal life. This is one of the components funded by Norwegian Government, a new initiative taken up by the programme in partnership with UN Women and BCAS that will especially focus on women-centric issues related to disasters.
As mentioned earlier, DECC will be paying special attention to providing alternative livelihood options for poor women living in Bangladesh’s most disaster-prone areas. Statistics prove time and again that women are one of the most vulnerable and affected groups during times of disaster. As such, this project aims to alleviate their preparedness levels as well as improve their standard of living through sustainable means of generating income; by investing in their capacity development; by giving training for skill development; and planting trees in households to buffer disaster impacts.
In order to maximise efficient disaster response, DECC is continuing efforts to build a specialised resilient taskforce within the BRAC community by conducting trainings and simulation exercises (or refreshers) to ensure knowledge retention and the actualisation of the SOP in real life. As a part of community outreach efforts, DECC has also started conducting Gananatoks or folk theatre for rural communities addressing awareness on disaster response and resilience. This initiative allows messages to be reached and understood more easily in these communities whose members often have limited literacy.
In another new project, DECC proposes the construction of a municipal solid waste management plant at Tongi, Bangladesh. The model project will support municipalities by collecting, sorting and processing organic kitchen and market waste through a dry anaerobic process to generate liquid soil conditioners, solid organic fertilisers and electricity from the generated methane. This will also permit BRAC to sell carbon credits as carbon dioxide and methane would be collected. This will also contribute to the improvement of environmental situations as well as public health conditions in the area.
Furthermore, DECC is leading its agenda on to broader horizons by collaborating with BRAC International. Through it, the programme is taking steps to develop context-specific Standard Operating Procedures for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libera, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania as well as design a Training of Trainers module in order to implement the guidelines set by the SOP into the organisational structures. As a result, DECC will provide international staff with the tools to respond to natural disasters more effectively and systematically on a global platform.