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The state minister said, the government has allocated Tk 22.73 billion (Tk 2273 crore) in order to increase the capacity of the disaster management ministry and its concerned agencies. While there were national emergency centres in various countries of the world, Bangladesh did not have this. A national emergency centre is now being constructed on a 100 katha plot of land in Tejgaon in the capital city.

There are no open spaces for people to go to in times of disaster. Unless measures are taken from now, there will be no vacant spaces at all in the cities
Selina Hayat Ivy, mayor Narayanganj City Corporation

State minister Enamur Rahman went on to say, initiative has been taken to expand various voluntary bodies such as the Scouts, Girl Guides, BNCC, Red Cross and so on. There are presently 4.2 million (42 lakh) volunteers active in the country.

Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor Atiqul Islam feels that Bangladesh can be a role model in urban disaster management too, if inter-ministerial coordination can be ensured. He said, 46 agencies of the government are functioning in the city. It doesn’t matter which agency is under the other, the point is to serve the residents of the city. The mindset of the people must also change if this unplanned city is to be planned. He said, no building will be given a holding number unless it has its own fire fighting system.

Mayor of Narayanganj city corporation, Selina Hayat Ivy, said ward disaster management committees have been formed and are mobilising public awareness. Also, 350 volunteers have been trained. The local people have a major role in managing disaster and so their capacity has to be increased. The city corporation must be included in the programmes of the disaster management ministry. There are no open spaces for people to go to in times of disaster. Unless measures are taken from now, there will be no vacant spaces at all in the cities.

Director general of the fire service and civil defence directorate, Brig. Gen. Sajjad Hossain said grave disaster looms ahead if order cannot be restored in Dhaka now. He said that in addition to natural disaster, manmade disasters also had to be managed. He said it is difficult to tackle the situation unless the agencies which work with disaster are in coordination. He said they were apprehensive about the predicament of Dhaka if it was hit by an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale.

Sajjad Hossain went on to say underground gas connection, electricity connections and such utility services have to be streamlined, keeping possible future disasters in mind. It was necessary to have zonal systems to immediately shut down gas connections in times of disaster

The roundtable began with an introductory presentation by Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum.

Bangladesh ranked sixth among the world’s most disaster prone countries due to its geographical location, climate change and large population

UNDP associate resident representative Ashekur Rahman said manmade disasters are more common than natural ones in the cities. The city corporations and municipalities have been given a lot of responsibilities in disaster management. But these local government institutions have a crisis in financial capacity and human resources. There is need to have a planned and sustainable urbanisation policy. A draft of the national urbanisation policy was drawn up years ago but is yet to be finalised.

Project director of RAJUK’s Detailed Area Plan (DAP), Ashraful Islam, said RAJUK is carrying out soil tests in Dhaka. Once this is done, areas that are risky for high-rise buildings can be identified along with areas prone to more damage during earthquakes. There are many mega projects underway in the city. There is need for projects to create public spaces.

Programme assistant of the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), Mokit Billah, said damages can be minimised if preparation is taken ahead of the disaster. Bangladesh lags quite behind in disaster preparedness. Urban disaster management is very complex. It is not possible on the part of the disaster management ministry to tackle this alone. If there is inter-ministerial coordination, preparation for disasters can be taken in advance in the urban areas.

It was stated at the virtual roundtable that Bangladesh ranked sixth among the world’s most disaster prone countries due to its geographical location, climate change and large population. Manmade disasters also exist for long, besides natural calamities. Bangladesh is at risk of earthquakes. But this risk is highest in the city corporation areas due to geographical location, unplanned urbanization, population density, weak and risky infrastructure, violation of the building code, lack of awareness, etc.

The discussants said due to climate change and various natural disasters, Bangladesh has experience in disaster management. But there is room to coordinate this further. The existing plans for disaster management are influenced by natural disaster management.

The speakers at the roundtable said pandemics like coronavirus also had to be taken into account for urban disaster management. They said corona was a new reality of disaster. With the outbreak of coronavirus, new experiences emerged regarding the burial of death bodies and cremation. These experiences could be applied in future calamities.

Humanitarian director of Save the Children, Mostaq Hossain, said it would be possible to tackle disasters at a ward level if coordination could be ensured among the ward disaster management committees and the other agencies. A database was being prepared of the volunteers all over the country. Bangladesh was a role model for managing disasters like cyclones and floods. However, it was a bit behind in urban disaster management. This could be improved by facilitating coordination among the government and non-government agencies.

The discussion was moderated by Prothom Alo’s assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.

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