Reading Time: 3 minutes
It is an inherent advantage when joining an organisation for the first time, to be able to consider its work with fresh eyes. I’ve spent the first weeks in my new role at BRAC’s disaster management and climate change programme (DMCC) absorbing a wealth of information filled with a combination of climate change warnings and interesting programme results.
It is an inherent advantage when joining an organisation for the first time, to be able to consider its work with fresh eyes. I’ve spent the first weeks in my new role at BRAC’s disaster management and climate change programme (DMCC) absorbing a wealth of information filled with a combination of climate change warnings and interesting programme results. With almost every document produced and received by DMCC beginning with some short background on the current situation of disaster and climate change, it is understandable how quickly the alarming descriptions fade into a familiar narrative that underlines everything we do.
For example, 30-70 per cent of Bangladesh is typically flooded each year and within 50 years, the country risks losing almost 30 per cent of its arable land and 20 per cent of its people becoming homeless due to rising sea levels. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Malaysia having the land pulled out from under its feet. In addition to the obvious issue of population density, Bangladesh is made vulnerable by its low-lying location, meagre infrastructure, low economic growth and intensive dependency on the environment and agricultural-based livelihoods. Between 1991 and 2000, 93 major natural disasters were recorded in Bangladesh, with a result of over 200,000 deaths – a pattern set to intensify. Already, the country is experiencing an increase in frequency and degree of natural disasters; after suffering two major cyclones within two years, the UNDP declared Bangladesh the country most vulnerable to cyclones. And so the list of grisly climate change predictions goes on.
Unfortunately, just as your mind glazed over the last paragraph replacing it with an executive summary of ‘the situation doesn’t look good’, it is just as easy to gloss over the steady progress of recent years without ever fully realising the significant impact that has been made.
DMCC’s disaster preparedness training, which aims to equip a combination of health workers, teachers and other important community leaders with the skills and knowledge they need to best respond to a natural disaster, has reached over 300,000 people all over the country. A standard operating procedure, which lays out how BRAC should co-ordinate within itself and with other organisations in the event of a disaster, was completed early this year, acting as a catalyst in streamlining and refining our efforts in disaster response. The iCRESS software, developed with the help of BRAC ICT, is used every day to monitor weather stations and disseminate real-time data to provide an early warning system. The nature of our programmes means that it’s not always easy to see their effects straight away but without this work on disaster preparedness we would be in a much worse situation.
In the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster, DMCC expanded its scope to include man-made disasters and has been able to offer support such as medical care and alternative livelihood training to the survivors of the collapse. Likewise, the list of impressive programmes extends further. While climate change should never be underestimated, it is equally important that a sense of cautious optimism is maintained.
It is in the nature of DMCC’s responsibilities that its programmes will evolve to manage external factors. Rana Plaza is not the only incident that will stretch DMCC’s sphere; in the next few decades it is likely that Bangladesh will experience a major earthquake – an urban disaster which we currently have little experience of. In addition to the impact on people, the environmental effects of climate change will need to be addressed. If the Sundarbans vanish under rising sea levels, we will have lost not just a world heritage site but a diverse range of wild life that includes the Bengal tiger.
DMCC, while still a relatively new programme, has some major achievements under its belt but in the future it will need to maintain its momentum to deal with increasing demands. This impression of being at the forefront of an area with increasing demand and global significance is what initially attracted me to DMCC. I think sometimes it’s worth taking a step back from the never ending documents, emails and meetings to consider what we are achieving and against what odds; I hope it’s something that will help me to remain positive about the impact I can have against all the negative statistics.
All in all it’s an exciting time to be joining the team and I hope we can continue to celebrate our successes and preserve the determination necessary to face the upcoming challenges.
Miriam Kennedy is a senior manager for BRAC’s disaster management and climate change programme in Dhaka, Bangladesh.