Bangladesh has a long history of natural disasters. Between 1980 and 2008, it experienced 219 natural disasters, causing more than USD $16 billion in damage and an estimated 200,000 deaths (UNDP, 2012). Bangladesh remains a country most vulnerable to natural disasters. UNDP reports that 30% of Bangladesh’s land and 26% of its population is exposed to three or more kinds of hazards.
Schools play an important role in disaster risk reduction. Schools educate the community and often provide shelter during a disaster. In July, staff members of IUCN Bangladesh travelled to remote, disaster prone communities in southern Bangladesh to discuss disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation with school students, teachers, local education officers and district officials. To experience first-hand how resilient the people of Bangladesh are despite the onslaught of natural disasters was a humbling and rewarding experience for all involved.
The ‘Coastal Livelihoods Adaptation Project’ (CLAP) is an initiative of GIZ (German Development Cooperation) funded by German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and IUCN Bangladesh is their technical partner for implementing one of the components of the project that focuses on education and awareness. The aim of the joint project is to implement a school education program on disaster preparedness and management over a five year period, in five coastal upazilas for primary and high school students and their teachers.
In July 2012, consultation sessions with students and teachers in five schools were held and they focused on five key areas:
• climate change, disasters and its impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods
• students understanding on climate change
• the role of students and teachers on reducing the risk of disasters and adapting to climate change
• identifying gaps in existing curriculum regarding climate change and disaster risk reduction; and
• discussing how information can be best presented to school students
The students shared their experiences of coping with disasters and recalled stories they had heard from their parents and others. Hearing the stories from the children who had survived cyclone Sidr in November 2007 was both inspiring and heart-breaking. In one of the schools visited, the school building itself was badly damaged during the cyclone and parts of the school or classrooms have become unusable.
The brainstorming sessions and Knowledge Attitudes Practices (KAP) surveys carried out in schools provided a helpful insight into the students’ knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding disaster risk reduction and climate change as well as valuable contributions for designing education materials in the future. While some of the students had a good understanding on climate change and were able to identify reasons such as greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, others had little to no understanding and could only recall stories of super cyclones like SIDR that they heard from their family.
Overall the students displayed a good understanding on what to do before, during and after disasters, however it was noted that there are some limitations on community resources. Sumi, a class 3 student from Choto Baisdia Golachipa, Patuakhali said ‘before a cyclone the local Imam (religious leader) makes an announcement warning people to take shelter. During a cyclone her family sets aside dried food and banana tree stumps and rows to the nearest cyclone shelter’.
One of the school students from west Behala High School shared her story, how she and her grandparents had gone to the cyclone shelter, after they heard the warning announcements from CPP (Cyclone Preparedness Programme) volunteers. She said that they were prepared with dry food like puffed rice and molasses and even banana stumps (that are used as makeshift canoes to travel during disasters).
‘The local cyclone shelter is more than six kilometers away, the earthen roads are either inundated or not in a good condition and the multi-purpose cyclone shelters are not large enough to accommodate all the community members. In addition, women are often reluctant to go to the shelters due to lack of privacy and lavatory conditions and are scared to leave behind their domestic animals’ said Asma, a class 5 student from Amkhola, Golachipa, Patuakhali.
Her classmate Shamim mentioned that the community sometimes receives prior information about disasters from the TV and radio and also from the Red Crescent/CPP Volunteers who travel through the villages on motorbikes and have megaphones to make announcements. She also commented that there are no killa or tila (raised earthen mounds) in her community, so there is a high mortality rate of domestic animals during disasters and this implies more loss for the impoverished farmers and fishermen.
The feedback from the consultation sessions will be used to develop Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials such as information books and guides for primary and secondary school students and their teachers in both Bangla and English. These will identify issues and topics that will assist in addressing vulnerability factors such as sensitivity and exposure and educate the wider coastal community on preparing and responding to future climate change impacts and natural disasters.
The education materials will be mainly pictorial and will focus on weather and climate, climate change manifestations, adaptation, mitigation, key vulnerabilities and risks, local and Bangladesh specific case examples, etc.
Based on recommendations from the consultation sessions the materials will also include information on cyclonic warning signals, preparedness and adaptation options including plantation of tree species suitable for cyclonic winds, a disaster map of the country, local case studies, history of the disasters in Bangladesh, to mention a few. This project has been replicated from the highly successful ‘Char Development and Settlement Project’ (CDSP) III funded initiative of the Government of Netherlands that was implemented in from 2008-2009 by IUCN Bangladesh in the coastal and offshore areas of Noakali region. The project and the popular mascot ‘Rana Bhai’, the climate change ambassador frog, were enormously successful in raising awareness about climate change and disaster risk reduction.
Considering the success of this project and the emerging need for improvement in disaster risk management and preparedness measures, GIZ has requested IUCN to provide technical guidance to implement this phrase of the project. The basic drafts of the books will be validated by the users themselves - through consultations with students, teachers, local Education Officers of the GoB, partners and education and communication experts. It is expected that the distribution of the teachers’ guides and students’ books will take place from beginning 2013; the project will continue to work with the schools and organize campaigns, competitions and capacity building programmes for the next few years.