Spreading knowledge is imperative to fight disaster and that should be accompanied with training of the stakeholders in disaster resilience so they remain active throughout the year, speakers said at a webinar yesterday.
The virtual discussion drew attention to the need for planning and capacity development and decentralised management committees in urban centres for earthquake preparedness, organised by Dhaka Earthquake & Emergency Preparedness – Enhancing Resilience (DEEPER) project partner Christian Aid and The Business Standard.
The government revised the Standing Orders on Disaster (SOD) in 2019 that defines roles and responsibilities of ministries, divisions, agencies, organisations, committees, public representatives and citizens to cope with any natural and human-induced hazards. All ministries, departments and agencies must prepare their own action plans under the SOD.
"We expanded disaster management committees up to the ward level both in rural and urban areas in the revised version," said Md Atiqul Haque, director general of the Department of Disaster Management.
"We began the task of committee formation but Covid-19 delayed the process. Our main task is to form committees at ward, union, sub-district, district and divisional levels across the country," he said.
Right now, the disaster-prone areas are being prioritised.
The revised SOD has a provision of divisional-level committees as well, said Nitai Dey Sarker, deputy director of the disaster management department.
Damage- and need-assessment committees and chemical-related disaster management committees have also been included in the new SOD, he said, adding that there were provisions for 16 national-level and 18 local-level committees in the SOD.
Atiqul pointed out some challenges that city corporation areas as well as rural areas might face while tackling disasters.
Cities are vulnerable to frequent earthquakes, fire incidents and waterlogging. But elected representatives change rapidly through elections, a reason behind many new faces in committees, who do not have training in disaster resilience, Atiqul said.
He asked for cooperation from non-government organisations and donor agencies to implement the SOD everywhere in the country.
Humayun Kabir, professor of Dhaka University, recommended giving incentives to local-level committee members to encourage their engagement in disaster management throughout the year.
"Geographically Bangladesh is a disaster-prone area with a highly dense population. It has experienced cyclones, flash floods, draughts, and landslides. To ensure that the local-level committees are active, we need to encourage them with some incentives. It may be a mobile phone which they can use in an emergency," he said.
Humayun also suggested including the Rohingya Issue in the SOD and guidelines on how people should respond during a pandemic like Covid-19.
Henry Glorieuk, advisor to the United Nations, emphasised the need for scrutinising national rules and regulations tied to disaster response so international assistance could come in easily in the hour of need.
The issues, such as customs and visa processing should be more flexible under the legal framework, he said.
Achala Navaratne, country representative of the American Red Cross, said, "All the people and stakeholders should know what is new in the SOD and why these inclusions are important."
He promised to be with the government with assistance.
The DEEPER project is funded by European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations and is implemented with partners such as Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, German Red Cross, British Red Cross, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) and Christian Aid.
TBS Chief Reporter Morshed Noman delivered the welcome speech while Abdul Jalil Lone, delegate-DEEPER German Red Cross, moderated the webinar.
Jalil insisted on mobilising local resources.
The DEEPER project has contributed to the development of a system that allows Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense to directly alert and deploy volunteers in emergencies, and has improved their management, in addition to training a pool of 1,400 volunteers.
It also helped form ward disaster management committees in 14 wards of Dhaka South City Corporation, enhanced their functional linkage within different tiers and disseminated knowledge about the SOD at national- and city corporation-levels.