Implementation of the Gibika project now under way – a warning system for Dalbanga

The Gibika project that was planned to improve living conditions in Bangladesh is now being implemented. The latest work results clearly show that numerous adaptation measures are required to prepare the country for environmental changes in the long term. In the short term, the foremost concern is to save people's lives. The first measure will therefore be to optimise the flood warning systems. The village of Dalbanga South will be making the start.

The first house behind the new dike belongs to Moshasen's family.  It offers accommodation for the family of five. If the whole village is relocated, the space behind the dike will be far from adequate.
The first house behind the new dike belongs to Moshasen's family.  It offers accommodation for the family of five. If the whole village is relocated, the space behind the dike will be far from adequate.

To improve living conditions in Bangladesh, the Gibika Project research team has presented a carefully documented review of the situation. The fieldwork has been completed, the target areas and their main risks identified. All the study locations face similar challenges: cyclones, droughts, and floods – and massive river erosion that year for year washes away more and more land in the communities. However, before major measures can be launched, some holes must first be stopped. The village of Dalbanga South is paving the way. The existing flood and cyclone warning system is to be optimised in this community.

A good warning system
The village lies in the south of the country near to Barisal. Cyclone Sidr, which in 2007 cost approximately 3,500 lives in Bangladesh, hit Dalbanga South with particular severity. More than 70 people lost their lives, even though a warning system and a shelter, the Dalbanga school, existed. Why so many deaths? In 2010, a sturdy protective building, a cyclone shelter, was built on stone columns so that people can escape here to safety when a flood warning is sounded. This sounds good, but numerous challenges still remain:

Social restraints:
In an emergency situation, the people must make several very difficult decisions. Very quickly. Should they run to safety, even if the family is not all together? What has top priority and what must be saved? Can they just abandon their house and livestock? What will happen to the goats and the hens? Many of the population have built up a small existence for themselves. A heavy storm can rob them of everything in one blow. For this reason they are reluctant to abandon their homes and animals – and decide not to go to the shelter. 

Dalbanga South has a warning system with seven warning levels. The helper responsible in the village shows us one of the warning flags that are hoisted in the event of a crisis. The victims of the last natural disasters are proof that there still are major gaps in the early warning process.

Organisational gaps:
The local warning system has been in place for decades, but is often not sufficiently reliable. The warning flags hoisted do not always correspond to the actual warning level. Incorrect interpretations can lead to many different warnings. This causes confusion. What is right, what is wrong? As a result, a lot of village residents, in particular the older people, stay in their houses. Apart from the person who is officially responsible, the task force for the entire community of Dalbanga South consists of two further volunteers. These three helpers must coordinate over 1,500 people – without constant training, this is a Herculean task.

Infrastructure challenges:
The cyclone shelter only has room for approximately up to three hundred persons. In contingency situations, as many as 1,500 persons must be brought to safety. The school is still used as an emergency shelter in such cases. Added to this is the fact that gender segregation has high cultural priority. However, the shelter only has one room. Such social aspects must therefore also be integrated into infrastructure planning.

The cyclone shelter was built in 2010. In an emergency, it offers room for approximately 300 people. In quiet times it is used as a classroom for primary school pupils.

The Gibika Project is trying to develop medium- to long-term solutions for the villages. The foremost priority is orderly relocation. The village is not just threatened by cyclones and floods alone. As with many settlements along rivers, river erosion plays an important role. However, before this goal can be tackled, the people above all must survive to become resilient. For this reason, the warning system must first be optimised. The school children are the key to this situation. If it proves possible to integrate an awareness for risks and automatic procedures during emergencies into school education, a first important step will have been taken.

TL, 23. September 2015


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> Christian Barthelt

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