Cyclone Roanu is a reminder: we must focus on preventing crises, even as we respond to them
23 May 2016 by Khurshid Alam
As the World Humanitarian Summit unfolds and leaders discuss the humanitarian impact of rising crises and disasters, half a million people are currently displaced after Cyclone Roanu pummeled the Bangladesh coastline on Saturday, with 55mph winds and floodwaters several feet high.
Making landfall in the country’s south-east, the cyclone brought devastation to areas unaffected by cyclones for the past 25 years. Where there used to be crops there is now salt water – the sea surrounding even the cyclone shelter.
We are already on the ground in Banshkali, the hardest-hit area and the site of 7 of the 24 confirmed deaths caused by cyclone. The embankment protecting the people living there caved in, flooding homes, crops, and freshwater fish ponds.
Meeting with survivors and surveying the damage, our team learnt that in some areas, as many as ninety percent of houses may be damaged, leaving families without shelter for the oncoming monsoon season. Many are now sheltering on a raised road nearby.
Further south, in the sub-district Chokoria, the embankment had not been fully reconstructed following last year’s Cyclone Komen. On Saturday, the community was again inundated by Roanu. The poor recovery left the villages even more vulnerable than they were before.
Bangladesh’s exposure to cyclones will not lessen – in fact, with climate change we may see the coast battered more often, harder, and in unpredictable ways. In the past decade, Bangladesh has transitioned from disaster management to disaster risk reduction by – among other things – changing the public mindset and government policy, expanding early warning systems and volunteerism, and engaging communities in identifying and addressing local risk.
Among the communities hit by Cyclone Roanu this weekend, we’re hearing reports that the ones supported by the government’s disaster preparedness programmes were better prepared and able to shelter people and livestock on raised land, roads and embankments constructed by the programme.
Where disaster risk reduction and resilient recovery is not supported, people grow increasingly more vulnerable with every single disaster. And climate change further compounds the complexity of the challenges we face. As leaders gather for the World Humanitarian Summit, we have an historic opportunity and renewed momentum to meet these global challenges by fundamentally changing how the world deals with crises.
We must all ask ourselves: how can we help in ways that don’t just alleviate suffering, but support communities to become more resilient for the future? Our work in disaster risk reduction in Bangladesh offers some of the best examples of how our efforts can prevent or reduce crises, not just manage them.