DISASTER and NGOs!

by Bishawjit Mallick, Bangladesh, ELP 2015
Written on July 15, 2015.

The author holds a research associate position at the Institute for Regional Science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany and also works as Foreign Research Fellow at Vanderbilt University, USA. He has long-standing research experience in Bangladesh and is an expert in environmentally-induced migration, social vulnerability and disaster risk-management. His present research includes disaster resilient societies, migration-poverty-adaptation nexus, and community resilience building through spatial planning.

 
I am not a blogger, I cannot write what I want to say, but I am forcedly motivated to write a blog. What I should write and how my story will be a story for others, I do not have any idea! However, I have seen in TV shows (American Idol) – that one IDEA can change your LIFE. This is TRUE for them, who are born leaders, but for a person like me, who always struggles to find the leader in myself to come forward –an IDEA is more than a DREAM! Anyway, I have to tell a tale. Truly speaking, I was thinking, should I write about my volunteerism as a photographer during the ELP, like “Learning behind the lens!” or should I write “Am I really qualified enough to be leader?” or should I write something about the “dreaming and drinking at UC Berkeley campus.” Are they important for the BEAHRS future fellow? I was at stake!

I started to think, why should I not share some experiences of my work.

I have learned about the aftermath consequences of cyclone Aila (2009) in Bangladesh (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/bangladesh/5390103/Cyclone-Aila-kills-200-in-Bangladesh-and-India.html). It was not a big cyclone at all, but the aftermath inundation created creeping problems to the physical, social, economic and even cultural environment of the affected society (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11027-011-9285-y). My 6 data collectors and I were the victims of cyclone Aila and were not able to have any cooked food for 3 days!

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During such a disastrous period, GOs and NGOs came forward. Usually they tried their best to reduce the causalities, fatalities and aftermath problems. I am not going to go into details of the role of the government here, but I am trying to dig out the role of NGOs, what I have observed, researched and noticed during my 6 month long field stay immediate after Aila. What were the roles of NGOs in Bangladesh to combat cyclone Aila?

There are more than 30,000 registered NGOs in Bangladesh, and all of them are contributing to the development process of the nation at their best level since their inception in mainstreaming to alleviate poverty of the country.

The devastation caused by cyclone Aila attracted many NGOs in the area. NGOs distributed potable water during the emergency as well as distributed tanks for rainwater harvesting. In fact, NGOs did far more than reported here at the household level. They built community structures such as PSFs and dug deep tube wells. Aila, especially, has been a wakeup call as a large number of ponds were flooded with seawater, destroying a vital source. It resulted in a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of these populations and the need to find solutions (http://www.childhealthfoundation.org/cyclone-aila.htm).

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Source: http://www.irinnews.org/photo/details/200907060458030129/relief-workers-distribute-food-and-drinking-water-to-survivors-of-cyclone-aila-in-koira

They provide both the monetary and material supports to the underprivileged people and also take the initiative to uplift the victims of natural disasters. However, their contribution is acknowledged most of the time separately or even not been controlled by the respective government authorities, as there exists very few cooperation amongst them and consequently overlap their activities. Accordingly, the poor segments of the disaster-affected communities are more privileged due to the mandates of the involved NGOs. Sometimes, the post-disaster activities help those NGOs to find new clients for their development programs, particularly for their micro-credit activities. Though the micro-credit program is very successful in Bangladesh and acknowledged by the novel prize (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2006/), it slows the social equality, disharmonizes the social structure and breaks up the community accountability. Actually, micro-credit ensures the upgrade of the livelihoods of those who have the capability to articulate and to manage that credit for small entrepreneurships development. But, those who fail to carry out these rationalities are victimized and fall into the circle of credit, and finally, have to leave the community. They are, sometimes, called ‘climate refugees’ (http://www.climaterefugees.com). The Asian Development Bank (ADB) reported that more than 30 million people were displaced last year by environmental and weather-related disasters across Asia (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/sep/19/climate-migrants-asia-2010). Scientists also projected that tens of millions more people are likely to be similarly displaced in the future due to climate change induced extreme events, such as cyclones, drought, floods, etc.

All of these situations induced from disasters lead to a paradigm shift of risk management from vulnerability analysis to resilience building. However, there is more room than ever before for addressing the issues of risk reduction for the poor. This is also in consonance with the paradigm shift in the mainstream development practice, which is now characterized by an emphasis on good governance, accountability and a greater focus on bottom-up approaches. The development efforts undertaken and the services provided through NGOs satisfy some of the demands of the people and curtail pressure on the constrained budgets of the local government bodies. However, the rural development programs undertaken by different non-governmental organizations are scattered and uncoordinated. Though, a national NGO Coordination Committee on Disaster Management chaired by the Director General of the Disaster Management Bureau provides a mechanism for coordination of Government and NGO activities. If arranged methodically, volunteerism can make significant differences to the lives of the rural poor in a country like Bangladesh, where governmental resources are scarce but the people are basically altruistic.

How effective are private and NGO initiatives for disaster management? How are they perceived by the disaster mitigation program (DMP)? What types of activities are undertaken by the NGOs? What are the consequences of their DMP interventions to the society?