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18 February, 2020 11:10:28 AM

Empowering local government for effective disaster management

Recurring disasters demolish the economic resource base of the poor people and drain out economic potentials
Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam
Empowering local government for effective disaster management

Disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of society, posing a significant, widespread threat to human life, health, property or the environment, whether caused by accident, nature or human activity, and whether developing suddenly or as a result of complex, long-term processes.
Bangladesh is undeniably the world's most disaster prone country. Recurring disasters demolish the economic resource base of the poor people and drain out  economic potentials. Effective humanitarian coordination aims to ensure the best use of resources to reach the most appropriate and relevant response to the needs of people affected by natural disasters. The impacts and vulnerabilities of disasters could be minimized with the making of proper disaster management planning and by incorporating disaster management activities (risk reduction, response and recovery) with local and national development plan. It is apparent that, effective coordination is an essential ingredient for disaster management. Bangladesh has gained credibility and repute across the world as a defender to disaster management. Bearing in mind the magnitude of recent past cyclone Bulbul, I re-counthere the reason why local government bodies particularly Union Parishad must be empowered in a true sense to manage disaster effectively.
The Government of Bangladesh has taken a number of significant steps during the last decades for building up institutional arrangements from national to the union levels for effective and systematic disaster management. Apart from the institution building, legislative development also facilitates mitigation to the sufferings of disaster victims in Bangladesh. To maintain proper coordination amongst the concerned ministries, departments, line agencies, Local Government Body and community people, and also to ensure their proper functioning to diminish sufferings of the people, the Government of Bangladesh has formulated a set of apparatuses from national down to the grass-root levels. For these mechanisms to be best operative, the Standing orders on Disaster (SOD) act as a guidebook.As per SOD, Disaster Management Committees are found to be in place starting from the National Disaster Management Council headed by the Honorable Prime Minister functioning to the Union Disaster Management Committee (UDMC)headed by the Chairman of the Union Parishad.

In accordance with the SOD, UDMC will be consisting of 36 members while the chairperson of the Committee can co-opt a maximum of 3 (three) more members and form groups and sub-groups considering the local situation and special circumstances. UDMC has been given mandate to act as the rural disaster management entity and it is supposed to play role in disaster preparedness, mitigation, emergency response and post disaster rehabilitation. UDMC must ensure that local people are kept informed and capable of taking practical measures for the reduction of risk at household and community level and also disseminate the success stories of reducing disaster risks at household and community level widely among the local people and will hold a hazard, vulnerability and risk analysis at Union level and prepare risk reduction action plan (RRAP) and contingency plan for earthquake and other hazards.

UDMC will facilitate coordination among the development agencies and service providers through quarterly coordination meeting and take decision about implementation of the action plan for risk reduction as well as review the progress of the risk reduction action plan. It will work to raise fund at local level to implement the risk reduction action plan. Unfortunately, local people particularly of vulnerable groups have a very limited access to UDMC’s meeting deliberations and decisions. This largely signifies that the local vulnerable group members have very limited information about the role, mandates and functioning of the disaster management committee in the ground level.

There is no evidence of effective role being played by UDMC in pre-disaster period. General perception from the community level consultation is revealed that, disaster risk management is still a secondary priority and not well integrated into different programmes being implemented by Union Parishad. Persons who manage and lead Disaster Management Committees are not expert in Disaster management but the SOD gave them authority to coordinate and manage disaster management efforts. Political leadership at local level is not involved to lead the disaster management and therefore, people’s interest and sense of accountability are not reflected.

People exposed to disaster vulnerability are deprived and they never get access to know what sort of disaster management programme with the amount are planned and executed by the Upazila and District administration in Bangladesh. On the other hand, Union Disaster Management Committee headed by the Union Chairman has been in paper as chairman and other members are not well trained about the procedure of committee to run. Besides, Upazila Administration particularly Upazila Nirbahi Officer and Project Implementation Officer are not supportive to make the Union level Disaster Management Committee effective as resource allocated for disaster management is handled by both officer of the government.

For effectiveness of the UDMC to address the challenges of disaster preparedness, it must organize UDMC meeting on a regular basis both pre, during and post disaster phases; raise dedicated fund for disaster risk reduction; set up disaster warning station in each UP office; construct and maintain disaster shelter center within the UP complex; formation of volunteer team under each UP for emergency response; initiate training on disaster preparedness and emergency response; create social awareness campaign on disaster management; and ensure rapid and timely coordination. Beside these, community involvement in the process of hazard vulnerability and resources assessment, plan formulation and implementation of the preparedness and mitigation solutions leads to effectiveness of UDMC.

The community participation in UDMC activities builds confidence, pride and capabilities to pursue disaster preparedness and mitigation as well as development responsibilities at the local level. Capacity building and public awareness activities through UDMC enables the communities to increase participation and eventually, to sustain even on their own the preparedness and mitigation activities. Concerned government departments including Department of Disaster Management, NGOs/INGOs, Inclusion of two women in each UDMC does not go far enough to ensure that the needs and capacities of women are represented.

There is no evidence or analysis available on whether women are able to participate and influence the UDMCs. Support and capacity-building of UDMCs is unmapped. There are a number of activities to build the capacity of the Disaster Management Committees but it is not possible to access this information or understand where committees are functioning and where they are not. Elected local government representatives at Union and Upazila levels are key actors for all field level Disaster Risk Reductionactivities where resources are allocated at the national level through district administration. But in this highly populous country with multiple hazards affecting the communities round the year, the volume of allocated resources is not sufficient to support the initiatives.

There is a need to work with the government on establishing good quality information on “disaster events” in order to establish their scope quickly, and any gaps in the government’s capacity to respond. This should include strong advocacy on the importance of sharing information promptly (regardless of the need for assistance) and on the provision of a forum where information generated by non-government actors can be shared broadly. Effort should be made to consider the legitimacy of initiating coordination by mapping out how to trigger a coordinated approach to an event empowering Union Parishad, the first responder in disaster. The international humanitarian communitymust keep their efforts continue with more community focused interventions that relate directly to preparedness for coordinated response. However, there is growing momentum and efforts to address this situation coming from the UN system, the INGOs and the donor community. An alignment of these efforts is needed.

The writer is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University. He can be reached at



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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