BANGLADESH: Beef up disaster management, say aid workers.

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– Aid workers in Bangladesh have called for the immediate enactment of a national disaster management act (DMA) expected before parliament next month. The 1998 draft DMA has faced repeated bureaucratic hurdles.

More than a dozen international and local NGOs, led by the Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) Bangladesh Consortium and the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, have joined the appeal.

“We have harnessed our combined energy, networks and influence to bring about a broader government and parliamentary consultation process for a much needed improved disaster management act in Bangladesh,” Mohammad Harun Or Rashid, manager of the ECB project, said.

“Without a DMA, rights of the community people struck by disasters are difficult to protect,” added Mohammad Abdul Qayyum, national project coordinator of the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP). “This type of act in theory is supposed to hold response managers and authorities more accountable.”

“It is striking that Bangladesh does not have an active DMA even though it has regular large-scale disasters,” Gareth Price Jones, country director for Oxfam in Bangladesh, told IRIN.

According to the Asian Disaster Reduction Centre (ADRC), the DMA establishes machinery working through state and local authorities; and clarifies where responsibilities lie.

Compensation

Despite the country’s current standing orders on disasters, which define roles and responsibilities in the event of disaster, Bangladesh has no clear framework for announcing an emergency area after a disaster, no provision for affected people in seeking compensation, nor criminal provisions for the neglect and mishandling of relief assistance, said Abdul Wazed, a senior official in the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management, noting “these will be incorporated within the DMA, once it is passed.”

According to Humanity Watch, a civil society campaign group based in southern Khulna District, more than a year after Cyclone Aila, around 400,000 people were unable to return to their homes or seek compensation for lack of a DMA.

Thousands lived on broken parts of embankments during this time in makeshift shanties after a tidal surge created during the storm breached over 700km of coastal embankment in Khulna and Satkhira districts, submerging homes and farmland in the area.

According to government figures, more than 181,000 people have lost their lives in the past three decades in some 194 disasters related to drought, extreme temperature, floods and storms, affecting more than 30 million people and causing economic damage exceeding US$16.4 billion.

The UN says Bangladeshis are the most at risk population in the world today to earthquakes, floods, tropical cyclones and landslides.

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