Khadiza Akter :: In Bangladesh,in association with early warning, Cyclone Shelters (CSs) in the coastal region are playing the great role in reducing vulnerability during different natural disasters especially during cyclones. CSs also include a widely acceptable form of infrastructural support for disaster management in Bangladesh. But the matter of regret is that a lot of problems are existing regarding CSs for which it is not possibleto protect the lives and properties of the coastal people from the devastating cyclonesentirely. Therefore, this is the need of time to place this aspect at the center of the discussion with a view to reduce disaster vulnerability in a comprehensive approach.
First of all, the number of CSsin the coastal region is not adequate. Since the 1950s, many national and international agencies have been involved in building CSsin the coastal region of Bangladesh but the rate at which the population increased in the coastal region, CS was not built. Also a good number of CSs have been damaged by river erosion and have been destroyed due to their decaying and unsafe condition, which created a lot of deficiencies. Though the construction of the first donor funded CS started after a major cyclone in 1985, before 1991 the number of CS was very few.
The maximum number of CS in the coastal region has been built after the cyclone in April, 1991. Actually in that time the CSs were built keeping in consideration of the population living at that time but in the meantime number of population has been changed greatly. Even Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are now constructing CSs as part of their development work. Still the number is not adequate compared to the population living in vulnerable areas.
Moreover, the capacity of theexisting CSs is not adequate compared to the total population of the area covered in most of the cases. Even their capacity is decreasing gradually with increasing population. Because of that, the initiative of building CS fulfilling multi-purpose has been formalized. Generally these CSs differ from other publicbuildings in the sense that they are built formulti-purpose. For instance, schools, colleges, madrasas, mosques, health centers etc. under normal conditions and shelter for people during emergency. That is why they are called Multi-Purpose Cyclone Shelter (MPCS). But sometimes its main purpose is hampered by its other purposes. During the emergency, some rooms remain closed to keep the materials of those schools, colleges, madrasas or health centers which do not allow some more people to take shelter.
There was such a situation in Patuakhali that during the SIDR, even though some people managed to go to the CS earlier, they had to wait outside the shelter for a long time due to the absence of the person who was responsible to open the cyclone shelter cum primary school. According to the information of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the average existing accumulated capacity of CSs is such that they can accommodate only about 8 percent of the total coastal population. That means the existing CSs cannot provide shelter to 92 percent of the vulnerable population in a time of need.
Furthermore, there are many CSs which are not in suitable location.While the catchment area of CS should be determined on the basis of the distance which most families are able to travel during incidents of cyclone, the density of population and the communication network in the area, for many CSs it seems like little attention has been given on selecting the location of the shelter. There are many CSs in the coastal region which are located in remote and inaccessible areas. In that case probably only availability of land was the vital issue to select the location without considering any other location criteria.
So many of the CSs are located government Khasland where communication, water supply, sanitation, electricity, and many other crucial facilities are not in a good condition. When it was difficult to get an allocation of government owned Khasland for the construction of a CS, the land has been collected through sell or donation of local power elites. Because the construction of a CS requires a large-sized plot of land that cannot be easily buy from a poor family. And itlet elite people be located closer to the CS instead of poor vulnerable people and often they also try to have some control over those CSs.
Additionally, accessibility of the CS is a significant issue of concern for the victim people. The Cyclone Shelter Construction, Maintenance and Management Policy 2011also considered that people living within a 1.5 km of a CS will be able to take shelter during a cyclone. Therefore, if the shelter is far more away than 1.5 km, it is difficult for them to reach the shelter before being affected severely. But in reality it is happening. Many people do not have CS within 1.5 km and it has very cruel effect on them.In many cases there is no proper communication network especially the road network leading to CSs as well.
As a result people cannot move for taking shelter in case of cyclone or other devastating disaster especially during the short time period available after early warnings. It seems very difficult for women, children, elderly and people with disability travelling to a distant CS through bad road network especially during the night of disaster. Many death have been reported because of bad road network when people were moving towards CSs. many abortion and miscarriages also have occurred because of the long distance pregnant mother had to travel through unsuitable way to reach CSs. Sometimes it is also happen that people do not remain properly informed about the exact location of the CSs which is closely associated from their place and accessible by a good road network.
Besides, CSs are in a lack of proper management and maintenance standards together with sufficient and adequate fundamental facilities.Most of the CSs are in absence of day-to-day management and some are in unsafe or risky condition. Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) reported that while the majority CSs are usable, nearly 9 per cent of the existing shelters are unusable in the event of cyclones because of their unsafe and risky condition. Even some of their structural condition is beyond repair. This is also true for majority cases that once the CS is built; there is no adequate maintenance fund for them form the authority.
Even there is no mechanism for the community to participate in their maintenance. Moreover, many of the CSs are in lack of fundamental facilities for the vulnerable people which ensure their further vulnerability. A closer look at the state of CSs reveals that many of the CSs do not have food and drinking water facilities, medical and nursing facilities, management of people, hygienic sanitation system, hygiene management materials, electricity facility, proper security, facilities to protect livestock and many other problems. It is known to all that during the cyclone SIDR, a high number of death were reported while using the shelters due to their unsuitability and unhygienic condition of CSs. Probably this is because of the indifferent behavior of authority to do regular monitoring and assessment of the integrity of CS management committee structures and activities.
Most importantly, in general the design of the CSsdo not provide minimum gender-friendly accommodation and their living environment also not gender-friendly. Usually most of the CSs do not have separate space for men, women, children and elderly. Private space for pregnant women and lactating mother as well as for sick people is also rare. There are cases of abortion and miscarriages as well as death of sick people in the CSs only because of their crowded and inappropriate environment. Lack of separate toilet facilities for women is another reason why women often face loss of dignity and abuse while they have to stand in long line with male strangers for using toilet.
Even many CSs are not accessible to people with disabilities for which many families having people with disabilities deny to go to the CSs knowing the coming danger. CSs are out of required security for women and girls as well. From previous experience it can be said that the number of cases of sexual harassment, abuse, exploitation and trafficking of women on the way to CSs, also during staying in the shelters is not less. Often they are in risk of being facing threats of theft and robbery.
The worst thing is that all these factors may create a long time psycho-social impact on women’s life. Many times incident of discrimination between poor and rich people in having place in the CS also happen. Therefore, it makes the already vulnerable group of people such as poor, women, children, elderly, and people with disability, more vulnerable due to the lack of gender-friendly facilities even during emergency.
Therefore, this is the time to provide necessary attention on CSs considering as the most effective tool of disaster management measure. Disaster Risk Reduction strategies in Bangladesh have come a long way emphasizing on increasing the number of CSs. Now, following the updated concept of disaster management, it is essential to consider a CS not only as an evacuation space for cyclone affected people but also as a place where people can take shelter as a meaning of shelter during emergency period.
As the number of natural disasters is on increase in Bangladesh, issues such as availability, capacity, accessibility, management, facilities etc. combined with constraints that prevent vulnerable people from using the CSs need to be highlighted. As we all know, during severe natural disasters CSs are the only reliance to live for the vulnerable people, policy makers and other stakeholders must adopt a comprehensive approach in building, maintaining and managing CSs.
Hopefully it will help to ensure protection of victim people irrespective of their age, sex, race, disability, social status and other identity markers. If we could ensure these issues, we would be able to assist greatly in preventing the exploitation and other risks faced by victim and in enabling them to go back their regular life in dignity and peace.
Khadiza Akter: Junior Programme Specialist, Gender and Water Alliance-Bangladesh, Khadiza.firstname.lastname@example.org