Spreading knowledge is imperative to fight disaster and that should be accompanied by the training of stakeholders to keep them active throughout the year, speakers said at a webinar titled "Planning and systems-capacity development and decentralisation of disaster management committees in urban centres for earthquake preparedness".
The webinar, held on 28 January, was jointly organised by the Dhaka Earthquake and Emergency Preparedness Enhancing Resilience (DEEPER) project partner, Christian Aid and The Business Standard.
Representatives from media, academia, the United Nations, German Red Cross, American Red Cross, and government personnel spoke at the event.
The virtual discussion drew attention to the need for planning, capacity development and forming decentralised management committees in urban centres for earthquake preparedness. The participants also suggested some incentives, awards and recognition for local level committee members.
Government officials at the webinar described SOD (Standing Orders on Disaster), the formation of national and local level preparedness committees, training of the committee members. They asked help from NGOs, INGOs, and private sectors to disseminate the SOD up to the local level.
An academician and a United Nation's advisor stressed the inclusion of preparedness strategy during pandemics like Covid-19, in the SOD when it will be updated next.
The SOD is the first document for disaster management in Bangladesh first published in 1997 without a legal pattern. It was revised in 2010 and 2019 with different types of modifications.
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.
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 the Dhaka South City Corporation, enhanced their functional linkage within different tiers and disseminated knowledge about the SOD at national- and city corporation-levels.
TBS Chief Reporter Morshed Noman delivered the welcome speech while Abdul Jalil Lone, delegate-DEEPER German Red Cross, moderated the webinar.
Morshed Noman, Chief Reporter, The Business Standard
We achieved a standard position in terms of emergency disaster response, which has been acknowledged as a role model in the world. Our experts will discuss today how we can sharpen our skills in this regard. Today, we have experts, including the director general of the Department of Disaster Management with us. This webinar is organised under the DEEPER project. We are expecting some valuable recommendations from the webinar. I would like to request Abdul Jalil Lone from German Red Cross to moderate the session.
Abdul Jalil Lone, Delegate-DEEPER, German Red Cross
Welcome to this second webinar organised by the DEEPER project. This workshop is on "Planning and systems-capacity development and decentralisation of disaster management committees in urban centres for earthquake preparedness." In fact, we have a lot to talk about standing orders on a disaster, and how it has reached out to disaster management committees, and what has been the impacts, especially in the urban centres.
Md Atiqul Haque, Director General of the Department of Disaster Management
We are constantly dealing with disasters. We also have many opportunities to increase our skills. We have come to be known as a role model in dealing with disasters. There are many areas where we can work together. The Department of Disaster Management (DDR) coordinates public-private organisations, international NGOs and national NGOs.
We have been able to create the SOD (Standing Orders on Disaster) that covers all aspects of disaster management. The big problem is that we could not disseminate it properly. It was last printed in October 2019. The English version was unveiled by the Prime Minister last October. Both Bengali and English versions are now available.
We have to send messages to the ward level about the respective duties of the engaged parties. We have also published short booklets as the SOD is a big book and not easily portable.
Last week I covered Munshiganj and Manikganj districts. I have finished the union committees. There are some more unions left. Then, we will form upazila and district committees. First of all, I will give priority to the disaster-prone areas, namely cyclone and flood-prone zones.
Congratulations to the German Red Cross. We will train every committee by delivering the SOD. At this stage, I would like to have the cooperation of donors, INGOs, NGOs as it is difficult for the government to cover such an area in such a short time. So, we want to share the works.
Earthquakes and fires are more challenging in the city corporation areas. There is waterlogging. There is always a challenge with the committees of the city corporation. The elections in the union councils will be completed within six months. There will be new chairmen and members. We will also have to bring new faces to training. Because they will work and lead these committees for the next five years.
Abdul Jalil Lone, Delegate-DEEPER, German Red Cross
DEEPER is an earthquake preparedness project which is focused on Dhaka South City Corporation and funded by the European Commission. We have been there in urban centres since 2017. We work on system strengthening, decentralisation and capacity enhancement of disaster management committees. We also work on developing a volunteer pool which is very important for emergency response.
The idea is how the local response capacity is developed at the ward level and how the upscaling of coordination is happening between zones, wards and city corporations.
The project has also done some pilot on private sectors, especially with the market associations, and also with Uber and Pathao so that we have an extended volunteer pool in case of any eventuality.
Unfortunately, the project was hit by Covid-19 and we had to redirect it. In the redirected process, the project also supported around 1,500 households with the cash grant during the pick time of the pandemic. This was supplemented by mental health support.
The project is still going on and will continue till the end of April 2021.
This webinar is particularly what we are aiming to bring the galaxy of people together from different backgrounds; from media, academia, United Nations and essentially from the government personnel to talk about the importance of the project, the learning and also the share crossed learning we had in the project so far.
At this webinar, we will talk about how the SOD has supported the decentralisation approach and how the disaster management committees have been formed. Are they really functional? To enhance their functionality in the overall period of the project is one of the targets of the project.
Nitai Dey Sarker, Deputy Director, Department of Disaster Management
The SOD creates the opportunity to establish disaster management committees at every level. It produces the scope for the government, NGOs and private sectors to think locally and plan need-based progress involving the community.
The SOD in Bangladesh first published in 1997 without a legal pattern. It was revised in 2010 and 2019 with different types of modifications.
The first SOD was mainly focused on response issues in disaster management though it was also focused on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). In the first SOD, a few hazards were addressed where flood, cyclone and drought were the main focus.
Then, it was revised with a focus on DDR and inclusion issues, in 2010. Then, it was revised in 2019. Now, the SOD has a legal backup by the Disaster Management Act-2012.
The first SOD has a regulatory framework with the institutional framework. The SOD outlines the roles and responsibilities of relevant ministries and departments and various disaster management committees for ensuring coordination.
It also outlines the roles and responsibilities of various national to local level committees. It provides the coordination mechanism for the overall disaster management of the country.
The revised SOD of 2010 was more focused on DRR, earthquake, tsunami, landslide and fire. Regulative frameworks were also in place. The national mechanism for policy guidance and coordination was elaborated in 2010.
The issues of gender, children, disabled and elderly people were well taken and a multi-agency disaster incident management system was also outlined.
Then, what is new in the SOD of 2019? This revision was mostly focused on DDR. Lightening and chemical hazards were included here. Ward level disaster management committees were placed for both urban and rural areas. The national mechanism for policy guidance and coordination was again elaborated.
In the 2019 revision, we have ward level committees for both urban and rural areas. Now, the SOD is more focused on disaster risk management in the country. We have a national mechanism for policy guidance and an elaborated coordination mechanism.
At the national level, we have various new committees. Earlier we did not have division level disaster management committees. But in the latest revised SOD, we have division-level committees with their roles and responsibilities during disaster and pre- and post-disaster periods.
We also have a new committee. It is a chemical hazard management committee. Now, we have damage and need assessment committee at the national level. These are a few new national-level disaster management committees in new the SOD.
Abdul Jolil Lone, Delegate-DEEPER, German Red Cross
The entire discussion needs to go a little beyond how the SOD has actually supported the mandated disaster management committees in planning and system. And that is what we realise especially in urban centres that the planning and systems need to be enhanced and we have a legal instrument which is SOD and how we popularise it.
Humayun Kabir, Professor, University of Dhaka
Geographically, Bangladesh sometimes is recognised as a supermarket of disasters. It is unique in terms of its size and population.
The population density of the country is more than 1,200 per kilometre. It is unique. The average density of the world is 500% less than Bangladesh. And Bangladesh has an intensive flood plain, this is also unique.
This geographical context is highly supportive of the occurrence of massive disasters. In coastal areas, around 40-50 million people face cyclones regularly.
This is certainly one of the most important regions where the number of deaths due to disasters has declined. Remember the cyclone of 1991 when 1.40 lakh people died. But in Sidr and Aila, only 7,000 people died.
The SOD of 2019 is a detail presentation of national and local level coordination.
There are 16 national and 187 local coordination committees. There are duties of different agencies in detail in 2019's SOD. There is civil-military coordination. Formation of committees up to ward level and inclusion of earthquake-related issues are already mentioned.
If I talk about the gaps in the SOD, there should be a platform to engage committee based organisations like clubs. We have to remember that these are the local people. Their capacity has to be enhanced in order to have success.
There should be some platforms in order to include the participation of stakeholders involved in the management of influxes like Rohingya refugees. For example, the government can establish RRRC to address the issues related to Rohingya influx, the active role in different organisations to combat such kind of pandemic. When we update, we should keep these aspects in the SOD.
Strong coordination is needed. It will be difficult to coordinate in different coordination committees. Regular workshop and seminar are required.
Abdul Jolil Lone, Delegate-DEEPER, German Red Cross
What we had seen before the SOD-2019 that the city corporation was overwhelmed with their work as there were no ward level committees. Now, the inclusion has happened and we have the ward level committee. But there are other issues. There is no funding.
So, the discussion needs to be on how we can create some local resources at the local level both in rural and urban areas. And how we can functionalise these committees and enhance our planning and system to do a better disaster response.
Henry Glorieuk, Advisor to the United Nations
I would like to add a few orders that are very important for the humanitarian community. Some of these are the following:
The SOD of 2019 endorsed the cluster approach for coordination. This is extremely important because through this revision process it is clear that Bangladesh really does everything it can to align its legal framework to international best practices and at the international level. Bangladesh has developed its national cluster system.
So, this is really excellent because it also enhances the predictability of the coordination system.
It is relatively very unique in the world. The inclusion of the indigenous people in the local level disaster management committees is a clear recognition of them.
The focused based action task force is also very important, which is really showing that Bangladesh is really at the forefront of innovations in disaster management. Anticipatory action is really getting quite a lot of attraction and you have more and more stakeholders engaged in that manner in Bangladesh.
Ward and divisional DMCs were mentioned and another point that is very important, not only for the international community, is the humanitarian civil-military coordination platform, structure. This is also recognised for the very first time in the SOD 2019. This is very important as Bangladesh is very experienced in that. The support of the military through the national civilian-led disaster response in particular in earthquake scenario is very important.
All those are very positive revision aspects of 2019's SOD.
It is very important because it provides us with the overall guidance on where and how an effort should be tailored to the national system. It is a question of supporting how Bangladesh is organised itself. So, it provides some views on which areas of collaboration they could be in between United Nations' organisations and the division or ministry.
The SOD was released in Bangla in late 2019, a few months before the declaration of the pandemic and the pandemic scenario is not a part of this. It was a little bit complicated to understand which protocol will be implemented through it – will it be SOD or the protocol aligned with the infectious disease act?
Bangladesh managed very well to find a way to organise itself based on different legal instruments. But maybe in the future, a clear guideline will be needed to be released on that.
How much the ward and divisional management committees were activated last year?
Think about cyclone Amphan, for example, which was the first climatic disaster in the country in the context of pandemic and a few months later of the monsoon flood. So, I do not think that DMCs properly functioned at that time? Maybe, they were activated. But did they have sufficient capacity to do so? Did they have the financial capacity to undertake their role? Did they know their role properly? Did they have time to understand their role properly?
How the legal apparatus of the country is ready to welcome international assistance when needed. This legal preparedness analysis is called IDRL. IFRC is really the lead organisation on IDRL. They did it in 2017, upgraded it in 2019 to analyse the preparedness status, which has been there during the refugee crisis. I think this treaty could be revised again to take into consideration the progress made in the SOD 2019.
Achala Navaratne, Country Representative of the American Red Cross
Yes, there is a preparedness and response part in the SOD. But how do we incorporate some of these anticipatory components as we go along? That is why the point you raised is important. It is important to get all these people to understand the additional components of the new SOD and why they were incorporated into it.
Rather than looking at it as a SOD activity, we can see it as a pre-disaster event and pre-disaster coordination. So that we can explore some of the new things that are in the SOD, in addition to orienting people in the broader aspect.
So, these are the few things that the Red Cross, Red Crescent, Bangladesh Red Crescent are quiet interested in. We have a federation, can support by including other stakeholders because you raise the point that the government can do a lot, but I think we can do a lot to help the government of Bangladesh as well. Because we have different projects, we are in different places. And based on that we can amplify the message.
I think we also need to relocate how we are looking beyond the Covid-19 crisis, and other coordination's mechanism and structures.
Question and answer session
The disaster management committee has been formed at the ward level but it seems they are only active when development partners are around. Is there any government strategy plan to make them active?
Md Atiqul Haque
As I said earlier, it is the responsibility of DDR to bring the SOD from the national level to the ward level. We also have the responsibility to train up the committees. But we have to work based on a specific budget. In this pandemic situation, it is not possible to train the committees of different levels of 492 upazilas in the current financial year budget.
It is a matter of more time. So, if the NGOs, international NGOs and the private sector all come ahead and the working areas are distributed under the supervision of DDM, good results will come. If any NGO does this in one district, we will do it in another. I seek the cooperation of all to work together in this way.
Is there any mechanism in the SOD to engage local opinion leaders who are not elected as public representative in the local level committees? What the SOD describes to carry quality information to the local level?
MD Atiqul Haque
According to the SOD, the way the committees have been formed, each corner has been addressed. There are imams of mosques, there are secretaries of union councils, block supervisors of DDM, individuals nominated by the UNOs, individuals nominated by the deputy commissioners and NGO representatives. Representatives have been placed in each committee. Even then, provisions have been made so that the committee can co-opt new members if it deems it necessary.
If you go to rural areas, you have to consider that the ultimate success of disaster management depends on local people and stakeholders. Those who are in the committees have to be awarded some incentives.
The problem is in the past, the meetings were held only once or twice in the past. And there has been a lack of different equipment.
If the members are given mobile phones then they could effectively communicate in different phases of disaster.
Even to promote local people, for example, a certain incentive can be offered to take them to the cyclone centres. If the members of the committees of union parishads and ward levels are provided with some sort of incentives, awards or recognition, which would mean that they are performing well. At the end of the day, you have to invest in these levels.
Thomas German Red Cross
I have learned a lot on the SOD - what are the challenges and forthcoming developments. And, it is good to see such a variety of backgrounds from disaster management, academician, United Nations and Red Cross and Red Crescent family. I have truly learnt a lot.
Abdul Jolil Lone
Thank you very much for participating in the webinar. We will be back with another webinar on 11 February, where we will talk about how the volunteers are being trained and how we manage them and develop our system and connect with fire service and civil defence with the use of technology.