Friday, November 22, 2019 | ePaper

Geographical Info Systems

Its Advancement In Disaster Prone Areas

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Shishir Reza :
According to the 2015 Climate Change Vulnerability Index, Bangladesh's economy is more at risk to climate change than any country. With a per capita gross domestic product, or GDP, of about $1,220, the economic losses in Bangladesh over the past 40 years were at an estimated $12 billion, depressing GDP annually by 0.5 to 1 percent. Especially devastating storms that come along every few years have an outsized impact - such as the 2007 cyclone Sidr, which wrought an estimated $1.7 billion in damages, or about 2.6 percent of the GDP on top of $1.1 billion losses due to monsoon flooding in the previous 12 months. In May 2009, 3.9 million Bangladeshis directly suffered from the impact of Cyclone Aila, which caused an estimated $270 million in asset damage. Two-thirds of the country is less than five meters above sea level, and floods increasingly inundate homes, destroy farm production, close businesses, and shut down public infrastructure. Erosion leads to an annual loss of about 10,000 hectares of land and weakens natural coastal defenses and aquatic ecosystems.
Fresh water has become scarcer in Bangladesh's drought-prone northwest and in southwest coastal areas where about 2.5 million profoundly poor residents regularly suffer from shortages of drinking water and water for irrigation. Further, their coastal aquatic ecosystems have been severely compromised. Salt water intrusion from sea level rise in low-lying plains has intensified the risk of food insecurity, the disappearance of employment opportunities for agricultural workers, and the spread of water-related diseases. Bangladesh is recognised internationally for its cutting-edge achievements in addressing climate change. Bangladesh has invested more than $10 billion in climate change actions - enhancing the capacity of communities to increase their resilience, increasing the capacity of government agencies to respond to emergencies, strengthening river embankments and coastal polders, building emergency cyclone shelters and resilient homes, adapting rural households' farming systems, reducing saline water intrusion, especially in areas dependent upon agriculture, and implementing early warning and emergency management systems.
World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified five obstacles to economic development this year. These are income inequality, climate change, increasing polarisation of societies, cyber-attacks and increase of the elderly population. These are either the underlying risk factors or are the result of disasters. Therefore, we can say the challenge towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is how to manage risk through collaborative efforts of government organisations, NGOs, and the private sector, to reshape their development pathway. Nearly thirty percent of our people are living in urban areas, and this is rising rapidly. Public and private investments are located in and around cities making urban areas the centre of growth. But if it is mostly unplanned, this can be the death trap. Recent experiences justify the statement.
Disaster risk reduction is considered as a public sector responsibility, overlooking the role of the private sector. It will be the most difficult part to motivate the private sector to develop a self-regulation culture. Ensuring people's participation at all levels in a meaningful way is a complex task. The dynamics of underlying factors are very complex to ensure the participation in the form of a decentralised system.
At least 265 million people have been internally displaced by disaster since the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) began capturing this form of data in 2008 - that's 24 million people per year on average. The figure is, in fact, larger given that we have only been able to quantify drought-induced displacement since 2017. In the first half of 2019, the IDMC reports, nearly 4 million people worldwide were uprooted by conflict and 7 million by disasters. For the whole of 2018, the figures were 11 and 17 million respectively. Cyclone Fani alone drove almost 3.5 million people from their homes in India and Bangladesh in May of this year.
The Bhola Cyclone killed at least 300,000 people, and after that we lost 138,000 people in 1991 due to the cyclone Gorkey. But Cyclone Sidr of 2007 killed less than 3000 people. New and emerging hazards are more visible - urban fires, road and river traffic accidents, building collapses, urban congestions, industrial accidents and hazardous materials to name a few. These and other emerging hazards indicate the lack of governance, level of awareness and the level of disregard to the risks. It is also seen that the location of disasters is shifting from rural to urban areas with complexities which are of great concern. Because of our population density, there is great dependence of urban life on services like gas, water, and sewerage. Disasters stemming from climate events like salinity, drought, and riverbank erosion are causing great threat to the livelihood of millions of people. The issue of concern is that slow onset disasters have more serious and long term consequences. Historically we have been countering rapid onset of disasters like flood and cyclone, but not slow onset ones, which are complex and need adequate and appropriate planning, preparation and better understanding about the changing nature of the disaster.
Risk is the function of three variables: hazard, vulnerability and capacity. Development process may have less significant role in reshaping the consequences of many hazards, such as earthquakes. Development has a wider and significant role in reducing vulnerability. The development process must examine the process - whether it is generating vulnerability or not. It is agreed that development gains mean that vulnerability is reduced. On the other hand, development gains mean capacity development and improved resilience of the society and economy. Therefore, development means risk reduced through vulnerability reduction and capacity enhancement. This reduction initiative to priorities hazard considers the sensitivity of the sector, like food production and exposure to threats like cyclone, salinity and earthquake. All sectors may not be equally sensitive and all communities or segments of the population may not equally expose. Development priority should target the exposed poor and disadvantaged population, because the burden of disaster is unequal. The poor and disadvantaged are impacted more severely. Growth has to be inclusive. Otherwise, it cannot be beneficial to all and can create a condition of fragility. In such a situation, a small shock may invite great loss.
Despite the considerable progress that the Government of Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi people have made, they face continuous challenges associated with climate change. The World Bank Group's Climate Change Action Plan confirms its commitment to further increase the climate-related share of its portfolio. Already in Fiscal Years 2011 to 2015, the share of activities with climate co-benefits was at 31% of total IDA financing. And addressing climate change is one of the three primary focus areas in the Country Partnership Framework for Fiscal Years 2016 to 2020. Bank funding also has supported projects in some of the poorest regions to build desalinisation plants and solar-powered irrigation and solar home systems, raise the plinths of homes to protect from future flooding, and help identify livelihoods largely insulated from frequent natural disasters.
National ICT Policies 2009 to address disaster management are, protect citizens from natural disasters through ICT-based disaster warning and management technologies; Utilise remote sensing technologies for disaster management and mitigation; Web-based environmental clearance certification system; Promote cell phone/SMS-based disaster warning systems targeted to the population likely to be affected; Utilise Geographic Information System (GIS)-based systems to monitor flood and cyclone shelters; Promote efficient relief management and post-disaster activities monitoring; Utilise GIS-based systems to ensure equitable distribution of relief goods with special focus on the hard-to-reach areas.
(Shishir Reza, Environmental Analyst & Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association)

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