Dr. Md. Tariqul Islam and Dr. Mark Charlesworth have contributed to research on cyclonic disaster preparedness.

Bangladesh has more than 700km of coastline within the Bay of Bengal (BoB). It is a low-lying flood plain and high population density country. Due to the geographical location and topography, any cyclonic activities on BoB and beyond on it, on the Indian Ocean, impact on the coastal communities in Bangladesh.

(Below photo: Approximate origin and path of severe tropical cyclone Amphan on May 2020)

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The impact of changing regional climate and improved warning systems

The country experienced one severe tropical cyclone (TC) in a decade before the 1990s. A changing regional climate including increasing average surface temperature in the BoB, has led to the country facing two or three severe TCs a decade more recently.

Pre-disaster warning systems improved significantly from one radar system in 1970 to five systems operating in 2020 to detect the cyclone activities on the BOB. Also, the Bangladesh Meteorological Department has built cooperation with JAEA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) in Japan and the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in the USA to access their satellite images.

The Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) was initiated in 1972, and now it has 160,000 trained volunteers working in remote areas, including islands, principally propagating message house-to-house. Besides that, state-owned and private television and radio stations, online newspapers and social media play an excellent role in propagating cyclone warnings. Mobile phone networks are key in this with by March 2019, 160 million mobile subscriptions out of population of 164 million.

(Below photos: (1) A typical village in coastal Bangladesh: Dakhin Bedkashi, Koyra, Khulna (© Population Crisis Control and Mass Education Committee (PCC & MEC) / (2) An inundated household at Gazipara, Uttar Bedkashi, Koyra, Khulna (© PCC & MEC). The embankment was damaged during Cyclone Amphan on May 2020 and the tidal water inundates the inland household twice every day.)

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Improved infrastructure but limitations persist

Bangladesh has also improved the physical infrastructure, e.g., flood-protected embankments have been built since the 1960s to protect the saline water for agricultural purposes and the number of cyclone shelters have increased dramatically.

“There are still many limitations in cyclonic disaster preparedness, e.g., late propagation of early warning, weak forecasting, lack of number and quality of cyclone shelters, including gender specified shelter space in light of local culture, fear of the theft of livestock and other property while in shelters, poor transport to shelters, poor local decisions making, fatalistic attitudes, poor communication and evacuation plan, low quantity and quality of embankments” says Dr. Md. Tariqul Islam, Lecturer in Geography at Bishop Grosseteste University.

Building on this, Dr. Islam also added:

“The path of cyclones and their landfall location is a significant factor in the recent reduced death and loss of property. After 1991, all severe tropical cyclone landfall either on the coastal Sundarbans or ⁓90–100 km west of Bangladesh’s western border. Sundarbans minimizes the intensity of cyclones' speed, and therefore, death and loss of property are minimised. If a cyclone made landfall at the central or eastern coast of Bangladesh, it would intensify death and property loss in comparison to recent cyclones”.

(Below photos: (1) A newly built cyclone shelter cum primary school, Hatiar Danga Village, Koyra, Khulna (© PCC & MEC). / (2) A typical flood protection embankment: Koyra, Khulna (© PCC & MEC). / (3) A coastal embankment at Dakhin Bedkashi, Koyra, Khulna (© PCC & MEC). The repair work is on-going using sandbags after Cyclone Amphan in May 2020. / (4) Coastlines at Sundarbans: Southeast in Bangladesh (©Bengal Pix Ltd.).)

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Addressing limitations and ensuring economic progress

On how authorities could move forward Dr. Islam added:

“It is time to address and pay attention to all limitations before catastrophic death and loss of property occurs. Otherwise, several years of economic progress may vanish within hours”.

Speaking following the article publication, Dr. Mark Charlesworth, Programme Leader for Geography at BGU, said:

“It has been a privilege to contribute to this important research and I hope the lessons learnt will be applied in practice.”

The full research article can be found in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction: Revisiting disaster preparedness in coastal communities since 1970s in Bangladesh with an emphasis on the case of tropical cyclone Amphan in May 2020, https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1coGv7t2zZ5mN4


Dr. Md. Tariqul Islam, tariqul.islam@bishopg.ac.uk

Department of Arts and Humanities, Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, UK.