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Inset: Abandoned house used as a cow shed. Below: Abandoned government sponsored houses in Bangladesh.

‘Build back better’? The government of Bangladesh has been popularising the slogan ‘build back better’, since committing themselves to rebuilding Sidr’s ruins. In the case of their housing scheme, the slogan implies building stronger houses that can withstand future cyclones. If the government was right, it could bring prosperity to the communities of Sidr. But, if it fails, it could result in a massive loss of life. In a stormy situation every single tin sheet could become a spinning blade. Unfortunately, this grave scenario is likely because Cyclone Aila – which had one-third the strength of Sidr in terms of wind velocity and surge height – struck a few months after the housing programme was accomplished; it partially damaged every single house from this scheme. Thereafter, everybody under this scheme received a small grant for repairing their homes. Since these houses became vulnerable to a weak cyclone like Aila, can they withstand a super cyclone like Sidr? If not, are we inviting potentially new risks to the community? During the last couple of decades, natural

Dushtha Shasthya Kendra DSK (Dushtha Shasthya Kendra) is a national NGO that followed a rather different approach in helping people rebuild their homes from ruin that was more inclusive of their needs. They had a budget of 27,000 Taka per house, which was less than half of the government’s budget. They informed the beneficiaries of the budget deficit and asked their advice on how to accomplish the project with this financial constraint. They also considered the issue of extreme hot and cold conditions through the use of excessive tin sheets and instead used bamboo-fenced walls using tin only for the top roofs. They also maintained house plinth height above the last flood mark and clamped tin sheets with deeply anchored concrete pillars, to withstand future cyclones. For assuring transparency, the DSK took their beneficiaries to the market where they bought tin sheets at a bargain price. In the same way, they bought iron rods, cement and other building materials to make concrete pillars. They mobilised family members, relatives, neighbours and other beneficiaries to help each other build their homes.

1. Union, often expressed as UP, is the Union Parishad which is the lowest tier of the Local Government structure in Bangladesh.

This approach had two impacts: it caused them to build with care while adding up their own tin sheets and other materials to extend their homes; and they were earning income for building their houses, which kept money inside the community. They also completed a house they were a part of from the very beginning and do not have many complaints other than envying people who were aided by other NGOs who provided cement floors, concrete walls and tin roofs. When I explained DSK’s housing scheme to the UNO, the chief government executive who oversees any governmental and non-governmental development activities within Upazila’s jurisdiction, he said, “Government has certain rules to follow and does not have as much administrative and management flexibility as NGOs do”. In short, though every household at Gabtola had an official entitlement of 62,875 Taka, a substantial amount of their entitlement was compromised by sharing with vendors and builders and many of them eventually abandoned the government houses only because of bureaucratic red tape.

hazard events have increased dramatically and

About 4,000 houses were distributed under this scheme, which really makes the financial figure of their compromise a significant sum. Thus, entitlement is not only backed by law, but also breached by it. But, does it pose any additional threat to future climatic disruptions?

velocity wind and high water surge, would they

2. Human injuries caused by Bangladesh’s cyclone sidr: an empirical study. Natural Hazards, Volume 54, Number 2, 483-495, DOI: 10.1007/s11069009-9480-2

in 2004-05 climate-induced casualties have increased by 18 percent in the world as a whole. Statistical, satellite and observational data suggest that both the intensity and magnitude of storms will increase in the future. Professor Bimal Kanti Paul, from the University of East Anglia, conducted a cyclone-induced injury survey on 132 people in 12 Sidr affected villages. Paul later reported in an article in 2010 in the journal Natural Hazards[2] that 55 percent of injuries were from falling trees and 45 percent from flying debris. He also adds that 61.54 percent of structural collapse was due to trees crashing into houses, which caused more indoor injuries during the Sidr event than outside. Taking into account these findings, in the context of the government’s ‘build back better’ campaign these entirely tin-built homes will likely worsen the situation if and when a cyclone occurs again. If those houses could even survive through a strong be able to avoid collapsing from damage caused by fallen trees? These findings need to be accounted for in government’s housing plan for the communities of Sidr.

Md Nadiruzzaman is a PhD candidate in the Dept of Geography and the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience and is funded by the Christopher Moyes Memorial Foundation. He is supervised by Prof Peter Atkins and Prof Phil Macnaghten.

Hazard Risk Resilience (high-res)  

This is the high-res version of the first issue of IHRR's new magazine. It introduces research projects from the Institute of Hazard, Risk a...

Hazard Risk Resilience (high-res)  

This is the high-res version of the first issue of IHRR's new magazine. It introduces research projects from the Institute of Hazard, Risk a...