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Harvard study: Bangladesh struggling in disaster preparedness, recovery

  • Published at 11:14 pm July 14th, 2020
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Of the surveyed households, 54% reported that they were only slightly prepared to respond to a disaster

Bangladesh is inadequately prepared for disasters and recovering from their impacts, according to a study conducted by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI).

A resilience scorecard developed by the HHI and Concern Worldwide in 2019 as part of the study also found that most households in Sarankhola and Mongla upazilas in Bagerhat district would have difficulty regarding recovery, said a media statement.

The study, conducted as part of HHI’s Program on Resilient Communities, said that among the 462 heads of households who were surveyed in the two disaster prone upazilas, most reported that they were only slightly (54%) or not at all (39%) prepared to respond to a disaster in the near future.

Most also acknowledged knowing only slightly (72%) how to prepare for a disaster if they received a warning and only a few (11%) had attended a disaster preparedness training or drill, it said.

“Household-level data can contribute to the wellbeing of communities by providing evidence of the factors associated with resilience and those that impede it,” said HHI Resilient Communities program Director Vincenzo Bollettino in the statement.

HHI’s resilience scorecard is intended to be utilized in Concern Worldwide’s current programs in Bangladesh coastal communities.

When used periodically within regular program monitoring, it can provide a snapshot of household resilience to support program managers in targeting key aspects of resilience that are often overlooked in other scorecard approaches, including empowerment, subjective perceptions of ability to cope and adapt and social support.

Lack of preparedness

The lack of preparedness of 50% of residents was underscored by respondents’ believing that their own households were extremely vulnerable and 30% were very vulnerable to disasters, and that the disaster risk in their community was very high (47%), according to the study.

These perceptions were particularly pronounced among poorer and less-educated households in Sarankhola.

In general, only 5% of households had a “go bag” that is vital for emergency evacuation. None of the respondents had any type of insurance that could essentially help them in post-disaster recovery.

In terms of specific action planning, few or 19% had discussed an emergency plan as a family or household. Only 15% had assigned roles for household members in case of a disaster, and only 30% of respondents had an identified place for evacuation, said the report.

Of those who received a warning before the most recent disaster, less than half actually decided or acted as needed. Poorer and less educated households more commonly reported taking action.

Of those who took action, most did to protect human life (97%) by preparing a first aid kit (86%).

The most common actions taken to protect physical assets were tying the house roof to the ground (82%) and storing non-perishable food (65%), the study said. Despite their inhabiting the southwest coastal zone of Bangladesh, no households reported securing livestock and poultry, or the safety of fish.

For those who did not take any actions, they said, they were not considering any actions as necessary (44%), they did not have enough warning time (33%), or they were lacking resources (26%).

Low recovery

Similar to their levels of preparedness, households in Sarankhola and Mongla also had low levels of recovery and adaptation from disasters.

Some 61% felt only likely strong when facing a natural disaster, 52% being only slightly, and 45% not at all able to deal with the aftermath of a disaster, according to the report.

Also, 65% were found slightly able to adapt to changes caused by a disaster, while 58% admitted being unable to sustain themselves without post-disaster aid.

Following the most recent disaster, most families had been able to recover slightly financially (60%).

Coping and adapting

Despite their daunting experience with various hazards, households had been employing some financial coping strategies by themselves, like borrowing money, making changes to household spending, or selling something to support their daily needs.

With regards to water management, almost half of the residents claimed that they practiced rainwater harvesting and used saline-resistant crops and soil management.

However, only a few had the tools and facilities to effectively practise such.

Mental health impacts

The residents’ mental health had also been badly impacted by disasters, noted the study, adding that 53% felt extremely discouraged, and being only slightly able to focus and think clearly during disasters.

Similar to experience in the past, they also thought that they could only slightly be able to handle unpleasant feelings caused by disasters.

Interestingly, most claimed that their experience with disasters had strengthened them, although most—especially those with less education— felt that disasters prevented them from achieving their goals much.

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