Dr Mohammad Tarikul Islam, Visiting Scholar, University of Cambridge, UK and Associate Professor, Department of Government and Politics, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh

Dr Mohammad Tarikul Islam is currently a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. He is an emerging political scientist with a research focus on South Asia. Dr Islam is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh. Prior to joining the University in 2014, Dr Islam has worked with the United Nations Development Programme Bangladesh for a period of seven years in various managerial capacities. He has delivered lectures, seminars and workshops at Cambridge, LSE, SOAS, Oxford and different universities of China, India, Indonesia and Nepal. He is the author of ‘Local Government in Bangladesh: Contemporary Issues and Challenges’ from Routledge. Professor Islam is currently co-editing a book “COVID-19 in South Asia: It’s Impact on Society, Economics and Politics” with two young scholars from the University of Oxford and the University of Leeds, to be published by the Routledge. Professor Islam is perhaps the rare academic with a PhD from Bangladesh who has been affiliated with the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in different prestigious capacities (Visiting Scholar and Visiting Research Fellow). Professor Islam speaks with the Higher Education Digest Magazine about his forthcoming book from Springer on Disaster, Governance and Development: Perspective from Bangladesh.

 

According to Professor Islam, his forthcoming book from Springer tries to unveil the nexus among Disaster, Governance and Development in Bangladesh and examines the legislative and institutional aspects in mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into the development planning. With the help of rich content analysis interpreting the disaster management history of the country, the book looks at the challenges associated with disaster management in the context of Bangladesh. The volume has discovered the most reasonable strategy on how to accelerate the paradigm shift from the relief culture to the DRR culture. It also takes a look at assessing the viewpoint on how political economy influence the government of Bangladesh on governance and institutional strengthening to help identify obstructions and opportunities for mainstreaming Disaster Management into development and how does governance work in the implementation of disaster management programmes in Bangladesh. The book also emphasizes on collaboration between public sector and private sector for the expansion of disaster risk reduction programme.

The book also shows how does the multilevel governance perceive as new addition to the approaches of governance for professionalizing disaster management. To what extent, Policy framework has been developed in response to increased calls by both people of the disaster prone Bangladesh as well as the international community to recognize the disaster risk reduction as an institutional basis to administer the efforts of the Government of Bangladesh in reducing the disaster risk for a safer community is narrated in the volume.

Governance is defined as political commitment and strong institutions. Natural disasters jeopardize development gains, but development choices can exacerbate disaster risks. Adequate institutional, policy, and legal frameworks are required. Good governance is expected to make disaster risk reduction a policy priority, allocating the necessary resources, ensuring and enforcing implementation, assigning accountability for failures, and facilitating participation by all relevant stakeholders. Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world with great negative consequences being associated with various natural and human induced hazards.

Bangladesh has demonstrated their remarkable resilient capacities as a global champion in Disaster Management. In an effort to professionalize Comprehensive Disaster Management Approach with particular focus on integration of DRR into development process, Bangladesh developed a National Plan for Disaster Management (NPDM) 2007-2015 as well as Disaster Management Act are outcome of the national and international commitments of the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) and the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management and Relief (MoFDMR) for addressing the disaster risks comprehensively.  Besides, the Standing Orders on Disaster (SOD) is revised twice with the avowed objective of making the concerned persons understand and perform their duties and responsibilities regarding disaster management at all levels.

As stated by Dr Islam in his Springer book, Bangladesh deserves acclaim for making sufficient, appropriate legislative arrangements for disaster risk management, including the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction into development planning.  Nevertheless, in recent years’ various efforts have attempted to ‘leapfrog’ this obstacle by developing more forward-thinking plans of action and strategies, reflecting modern thinking around disaster risk management and, to some degree, embracing principles of mainstreaming. If fully implemented, these plans and strategies could represent considerable progress in mainstreaming at both national and local levels. The relevant ministries and local governments are legally responsible for implementing disaster management, as it is still commonly referred to in department circulars and executive orders, within their own areas of responsibility.

At the level of local government, various shortcomings in the basic planning process have posed considerable obstacles in effectively mainstreaming disaster risk reduction concerns into sub-national planning, most importantly relating to the fact that development and investment plans are not necessarily in place and, if they are, are not necessarily linked. Intra-government horizontal and vertical integration is not reflected in the overall planning process of the Government of Bangladesh. Existing breaks in the planning system between different levels of government pose a potential impediment to mainstreaming as they imply that locally identified needs are not necessarily reflected in higher-level plans and strategies, while there can be problems in implementing national policies and regulations at the local level.

Bangladesh should be proud of its people, who have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of natural disasters. They have learned to live with hazards and have devised their own coping strategies to deal with disaster shocks. In Bangladesh, what we perceived as familiar coping strategies are those that the community has adopted with conviction and experimentation over the eons. If I give you an example in the context of a flood, you will notice that elderly people in the village, using their traditional knowledge system, can predict weather conditions ahead of time, determine the nature of the flood, and prepare themselves to reduce the risks of floods. In most cases, their predictions are nearly identical to modern forecasting gleaned from radio. The traditional knowledge system varies little across different social categories.

The forthcoming book shows that, the political government for the first in the history of Bangladesh mainstreamed the concept of DRR with the enactment of legislature and institutional rearrangements from national level to local level.  In 2010 the revision of the SODs and endorsement of National Plan for Disaster Management demonstrated the highest level of commitment of the political party in power to DRR. This was followed by the enactment of the National Disaster Management Act in 2012 which was hugely significant for disaster management in Bangladesh. Mainstream Disaster Risk Reduction by the way of diminishing the relief centric approach in Disaster Management is deceptive in Bangladesh. Donors are found to be visible when disaster happens in Bangladesh. The Local Consultative Group on Disaster and Emergency Response (LCG-DER) includes representation of all key stakeholders and is the central forum for Government and donor agencies to take strategic decisions and share ideas and information on disaster management.

The Disaster Management Act 2012 has been effective with a view to establishing an effective disaster management system in Bangladesh. Only formulation of public policies for mainstreaming the disaster risk reduction in the development process is not adequate. The concept of the paradigm shift is well understood amongst the disaster management community in Bangladesh and its essence has been included in the policy discourse of the country. Coordination of disaster response was extremely challenging, because, the humanitarian agencies prepared their response plan individually and the objectives of these plans were too diverse to be aligned to a common goal.

Apparently, DRR and development should move simultaneously in efforts to promote the culture of disaster risk reduction avoiding relief centric disaster management approach in Bangladesh.  Clear leadership and a common vision of DRR as developmental and distinct from disaster management have essence to put DRR into the domain of development. DRR is perceived as everyone business and all stakeholders both state and non-state must adopt DRR into their respective development plan to mainstream for reducing disaster risk and enabling vulnerable people to manage live and livelihood with security and less risk.

The donor community, financial institutions, international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and donor governments—is recognizing the need to place more emphasis on programs that prevent disaster losses but could not contribute to the direct funding facility of the government for coordinated disaster risk reduction programme by avoiding duplication of efforts. Donor communities join hand with local NGOs for execution of their respective programme.

While talking about the existing gap between policy and practice continues to stymie disaster management, and disaster-affected people’s voices and capacities in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, Professor Islam opines that, the gap between policy and practice continues to stymie disaster management, and disaster-affected people’s voices and capacities in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery have been insufficient. Bangladesh is regarded as a global leader in disaster management; however, there is a lack of evidence due to the lack of an overall monitoring system and weak monitoring and evaluation practices.

The willingness and political commitment of various agencies, including the government and major donors, is the first and foremost major challenge to disaster risk reduction action, which is exacerbated by the resources available for the same. There must be a thorough examination of how much of the government budget is spent on DRR activities. We also need to look at how many donors are funding DRR programs and what percentage of their total budget is allocated to DRR interventions. It has been observed that the poorest countries are also the most vulnerable to natural disasters. The ability of the national as a whole to bounce back is even further limited. Even if there is commitment from the Government, there is no resource to fulfill the commitment.

Disaster Risk Reduction is incorporated in a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Goal 11, 13 and 14). One of the SDGs is to build a resilient and sustainable city. It requires not only to ensure the basic needs of the city dwellers, but also a long-term planning to reduce burden in cities through decentralisation of basic services as well as reduction of incidents of disasters. According to the Hyogo Framework progress report of Bangladesh, some of the loopholes in this regard are: The lack of land zoning and regulation of private real estate development, contingency plan to best utilise the resources, risk assessment, collection and dissemination of data.

A more coordinated approach inside the international humanitarian community, especially at the beginning of the response, as well as between the international community and the Government of Bangladesh, would have allowed replicating the successful – but isolated – initiatives undertaken by different stakeholders. Absence of proper and real time coordination does not prevent public and private entities to undertake DRR programme by avoiding duplication of efforts.

Can the Disaster Management Committees enable to safeguard accountability? In response to this query, Dr Islam explains that, accountability, whether downward, upward, or horizontal, is insufficient in Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh has taken a number of significant steps during the last few years for building up institutional arrangements from national to Union Parishad (UP) levels for effective and systematic disaster management, facilitating relief to the sufferings of disaster victims.

To maintain proper coordination amongst the concerned Ministries, departments, line agencies, Local Government Body and community people, and also to ensure their proper functioning to mitigate sufferings of the people, the Government of Bangladesh has formulated a set of top down mechanisms from national to the grass-root levels. For these mechanisms to operative, the Standing orders on Disaster (SOD) act as a guidebook. As per SOD, Disaster Management Committees are found to be in place starting from the National Disaster Management Council headed by the Prime Minister to the Union Disaster Management Committee headed by the Parishad Chairman.

Dr Islam suggests in his Springer book that, there is a need to work with the government on establishing good quality information on “disaster events” in order to establish their scope quickly, and any gaps in the government’s capacity to respond. This should include strong advocacy on the importance of sharing information promptly (regardless of the need for assistance) and on the provision of a forum where information generated by non-government actors can be shared broadly.

Effort should be made to consider the legitimacy of initiating coordination by mapping out how to trigger a coordinated approach to an event empowering Union Parishad, the first responder in disaster. The international humanitarian community must also ensure their efforts continue with more community focused interventions that relate directly to preparedness for coordinated response. However, there is growing momentum and efforts to address this situation coming from the UN system, the INGOs and the donor community. An alignment of these efforts is also needed.

This book from Springer will be useful for scholars, practitioners and researchers of disaster management, environmental studies, development agencies, political science, public policy, development studies, governance, regional development, South Asian studies, and local government, particularly those interested in disaster, governance and sustainable development.

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