Bangladesh: Youth at the forefront of community-based early warning systems

22 June 2017

Sohanur Rahman, Founder & CEO, YouthNet for Climate Justice

The effects of a changing global climate are already being felt in Bangladesh, which is ranked second on the climate change vulnerabilities index. According to our partner UNICEF Bangladesh, in the report Learning to Live in a Changing Climate: The Impact of Climate Change on Children in Bangladesh, approximately 60 percent of the country is susceptible to levels of flooding where 25-30 percent of the area becomes inundated during a normal flood. But there is little evidence of community level use of seasonal forecasting, where impact-based forecasting can be used in response actions. Early warning systems are generally inadequate and do not allow community members to access and interpret information in order to make decisions. Increased investment is needed in this area, to roll out information systems and work with communities to understand how different types of information can be used. Warning communication technologies will make flood and drought risk management more integrated and effective at the local level. 

In the context of Barisal region’s most vulnerable area, rapid onset hazards such as monsoons, floods and coastal floods occur regularly every year and cause damage to infrastructure, lives and livelihoods, while slow onset hazards like drought render homes and environments permanently uninhabitable and agricultural land unproductive.

If we compare the loss caused by different disasters, flood is the highest while drought scores the fourth. Again, if we analyze the loss and damage among different sectors, the agricultural sector is the most affected one and farmers are the worst victims. The loss and damage due to drought or flood could be minimized largely by providing agro-meteorological information to the farmers well ahead.

Bangladesh has a strong disaster management regulatory framework. The Disaster Management Act 2015 of Bangladesh calls for warnings to be disseminated in accessible language, in coordination with neighbouring countries. The Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan pointed out that, while “forecasts are released through emails and website, there is scope for improvement”.

In Barisal, early warning is more prompt and precise for cyclones, but not reliable enough for floods and drought. If we develop our products and use those media tools efficiently, we can reduce vulnerabilities. A people-oriented and effective early warning system, with support of partners, should have four elements:

  • Assess Risk related Knowledge
  • Early Warning Generation
  • Dissemination
  • Responses & evaluation

These elements should be integrated to ensure the expected impact.

The World Disaster Report stressed the importance of understanding early warning as a system rather than a technology. Beyond the technological aspects of early warning, the report highlighted the need to address risk assessment, communication, dissemination, and preparedness to act with the same level of commitment provided to the technological aspects of early warning.

The Barisal Youth Declaration at the first Youth Conference on Climate Change, Barisal 2017 in Bangladesh called for climate change vulnerabilities and disaster-related information to be properly disseminated and easily accessible, understandable and communicable to all, especially vulnerable communities. The youth of Barisal also committed to establish linkage with global youth networks and communities using digital and social media and other possible ICT platforms for sharing their experience, challenges, and learning on DRR and Climate change impacts.

So we should develop people-oriented early warning systems to save lives in affected communities in flood and drought prone areas of Bangladesh. Such improvements in communication to the key actors in the field would ultimately lead to more resilient and prepared residents at the community level in Barisal region.

In this context, Bangladesh Model Youth Parliament and YouthNet for Climate Justice are planning to establish community-based youth TV to address effective early warning and use different communication technologies for flood and drought risk management.

We are also trying to introduce a new system to show where flood water is rising or reducing, using maps on TV. We can use mobile, FM radio, community TV, IVR. Around 50 percent of the country's population is young. They can be the change agents for information dissemination. Young people can be involved in the decision making process and to take action as change makers with their innovative capacity for social change and sustainable development. Children and youth will be the spotlight of this initiative.  

The community is the key resource in flood and drought risk reduction. They are the key actor as well as the primary beneficiary of any disaster risk reduction effort. Community based early warning for floods and drought and risk management can lead to progressive improvements in public safety and community disaster resilience, and should contribute to equitable and sustainable community development in the long term. Focusing on community needs and demand in flood and drought early warning can reduce vulnerabilities and strengthen people’s capacity to cope with flood and drought risk.

Sohanur Rahman is the Founder of the YouthNet for Climate Justice (YN4CJ) – a voluntary youth organization network for raising awareness and taking actions to tackle the adverse effects of Climate Change. He has been one of the key Bangladeshi youth climate change activists who has focused on bringing youth voices to decision making processes for many years. Sohanur Rahman (also known as Sohan) is a dedicated young professional working with the World Youth Parliament as Founder & CEO. Hence, he has sound knowledge on different thematic issues including water management, youth engagement, child rights, governance and human development, climate and humanitarian, policies, developments and international affairs. His pro- active involvement gave him a combination of skills and experiences to lead social change.

Sohan’s activism dates back to 2007, when as a young boy he got involved with the Bangladesh Scouts Program. But his climate change work started in the aftermath of cyclone Sidr, which wreaked havoc on the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Sohanur Rahman works with SEDS, which is a partner organization of GWP & BWP. Sohan was selected for Youth for Water and Climate – Global Competition for #YouthLed Projects of Water Partnership (GWP) through his leading ide “Life” project in Swaronkhola Bangladesh in COP 22. Our youth-led projects which are based on the white paper recommendations made at COP 21.

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