POST TIME: 19 January, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Disaster management and community participation
The crux of community participation is the exercise of ‘voices and choices’ of the community and the development of human, organisational and management capacity to solve problems
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed

Disaster management and community participation

Disaster management is concerned with preparing for ameliorating the impact and reducing the risk of disasters. It involves both the emergency operation in a disaster as well as rebuilding the society in aftermath of disaster. However, it is found in analyzing the concept of disaster that managing disaster is concerned with managing vulnerabilities that include five basic phases: prevention, preparedness, emergency response, recovery and mitigation. Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to natural disaster in the world. Although it is not possible to prevent the incidence of natural disasters but the extent of damages caused by disasters could be minimized by taking appropriate measures in advance. Therefore, the government of Bangladesh has adopted disaster management plans and programmes with special emphasis on community participation.

The government of Bangladesh prepared a draft national disaster management policy in 2008 and adopted the national plan for disaster management 2010-2015 in 2010.  The policy and plans have been developed in tune with the GoB Vision and MoFDM mission to reduce the vulnerability of the people, especially the poor and he disadvantaged, by bringing a paradigm shift in disaster management from traditional response and relief practice to a more comprehensive risk reduction culture. Though the GoB has prepared National Plan for disaster management in 2010, disaster management activities have been being operated for long days under different projects. However, one of the strategic goals of the National Plan for Disaster Management 2010-2015 is to empower at risk community through advocacy and capacity building where community participation is a must to make it a success. The Ministry of Food and Disaster Management (now Ministry of disaster management and Relief) being the focal ministry for disaster risk reduction and emergency management is playing the leading role in disaster risk reduction and emergency management planning.

Bangladesh is situated in humid tropical zone. The country is a beauty of nature with cultural heritage. But it is highly vulnerable to natural hazards such as flood, cyclone, drought, tidal surge, cold wave, earthquake, river bank erosion, arsenic contamination of ground water, water and soil salinity and various forms of pollution due to her geographical location, land characteristics, multiplicity of rivers and monsoon climate. Since the independence in 1971, the country has experienced 200 natural disasters causing loss of more than 600,000 lives, millions of livestock and leaving prolonged damage to property, quality of life and livelihoods. Hence, the disaster events should be faced with proper plan and programmes where the active participation of affected people has to be endured in an attempt to reduce the damages of property and shorten the pains and sufferings of people as well as enhance the sustainable development process. Keeping this view, the government of Bangladesh has adopted Draft National Disaster Management Policy in 2008 and prepared the National Plan for disaster management 2010-2015 in 2010 emphasizing on community participation, capacity building as well as promoting livelihood of the disaster prone community in accordance with philosophy of alternative perspective of disaster management. But that have been happened in disaster management at community level, especially in community participation?

Community participation, generally, refers to the involvement of people in any project to solve their own problems or to develop their socio-economic conditions. They participate in setting goals and preparing, implementing and evaluating plans and programmes. The United Nations (1970) defines participation as the collective action by the various strata of people or interest groups. Basically, it is a dynamic group process in which all members of a group contribute, share or are influenced by the interchange of ideas and activities toward problem-solving or decision-making. The crux of community participation is the exercise of ‘voices and choices’ of the community and the development of human, organizational and management capacity to solve problems as they arise in order to sustain the improvements made over the time. Community participation motivates people to work to wither where people feel a sense of community and recognize the benefits of their involvement.

Disaster management programmes in Bangladesh are the combination of both structural and non-structural practices. Structural practices cover the activities such as construction of cyclone and flood shelters for emergency resort, and erection of flood protection embankments, sluice gates and regulators as safety measures against inundation by tidal waves, storm-surges and flooding and establishment of emergency operation center. On the other hand, non-structural practices include preparedness action and strategies, and coordination among the actors involved. Broadly, it is connected with adoption of disaster management legislation, national disaster management policy, disaster management plan; arrangement of training program and workshop, and introduction of institutional framework of disaster management with the establishment of Disaster Management Bureau, establishment of councils and committees at the national, district, upazila and union levels.

Alternative perspective of disaster management, of which main principle is to incorporate people’s opinion and ensure community participation in every stage of policy cycle, emerged on the backdrop of dominant approach. Bangladesh has given priority on community participation in disaster management inspired by main principle of alternative perspective. But it is found in above discussion that there are some limitations of community participation. Social workers could play constructive role to enhance community participation as they have extended networks in communities, they are familiar with community resources and potentiality of local leaders and are equipped with necessary knowledge for addressing complex situation resulting in emergency at local and national levels. They play their role during and post disaster situation operate relief work, coordinate the chaotic situation of disaster, and create access to resources for vulnerable population. In the purpose of producing skilled, trained and efficient social workers, universities and academic institution have to incorporate the disaster management issues in their curriculum so that the new generation of social workers handle the disaster situation efficiently. The government has to allocate more funds in disaster management sector; government officials have to give up bureaucratic attitude and have to be more people-friendly. In addition, appropriate measures have to be taken to make disaster management committees more active in every level.

The writer is a contributor to, The Independent.