How Bangladesh Beats America at Fighting Aquatic Disasters
In September, Hurricane Ida ravaged New York City. Subway systems and businesses became flooded. Homes, especially basements, were damaged. People were stuck outside, wading in feets of water (Goldberg). At least sixty-five lives were taken by the natural disaster (Lenthang). According to New York Governor Kathy Hochul, the hurricane caused more than $50 million in damage (Goldberg).
More severe hurricanes are expected to attack our homes in the U.S. due to sea-level rise. This phenomenon has been increasing due to global warming, as increases in temperature have been linked to thermal expansion of oceans and increased ice mass loss (Frederikse). Since 1950, the sea level has risen by at least 6.5 inches in America, and about half of the rise occurred during the last 20 years. Although “6.5” seems quantitatively small, this increase has caused a 233% increase in flooding across the country. The rate of sea-level rise is only continuing to accelerate as climate change gets worse, foreshadowing a gloomy outlook for coastal cities (Hauer, 2017; Sweet et al., 2018). Evidence demonstrates that 13.1 million Americans will be displaced from coastal areas, such as New York and Los Angeles, by the end of this century because of natural disasters due to rising sea levels, such as hurricanes (Hauer, 2017). At this rate, New York and Los Angeles may no longer be America’s biggest cities in the future. That is why it is important to better prepare for hurricanes in the future. Looking at how Bangladesh prepares for hurricanes may help us here in America.
Cyclones that would kill hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh now only kill dozens. Although it is still sad that lives are being taken away because of this natural disaster, the country must have adopted effective protection strategies to reduce the death count sharply.
It can be easy for the reader to find it crazy that Bangladesh is a superpower in managing water-related disasters. After all, it is one of the most densely populated parts on Earth, and it is one of the lowest-lying countries (DW Planet A). In fact, at the moment, Bangladesh is drowning (Irani). However, even with all the odds present, Bengalis have done an excellent job at managing aquatic natural disasters.
The reason for this stems back to November 11, 1970, when Cyclone Bhola thrashed East Pakistan, what is now Bangladesh. About 250,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed. This occurred because the Pakistani government did not have effective protection strategies that were also accessible. The cyclone was a watershed moment, as it caused protests against the Pakistani government and pushed many Bengalis to want to have Bangladesh as their own independent country with their own government. Once Bangladesh was established as a separate country, Bengalis invested in resources to efficiently manage cyclones because they personally knew how bad cyclones can get.
There are three main ways in which Bangladesh has managed cyclones: 1) technology, 2) infrastructure, and 3) promoting an environmentally aware culture. Invested technology has consisted of weather stations and forecasting systems that predict cyclones days in advance. Infrastructure has consisted of building large groups of cyclone shelters, some of which can house approximately 5,000, in coastal areas. After reading this, one may wonder, ‘Okay, but America has also invested in weather stations and arguably has more sound infrastructure than Bangladesh. How is Bangladesh being a superpower in managing aquatic disasters?’
The answer to this comes from Bangladesh promoting an environmentally aware culture. As
stated earlier, Bengalis in 1970 learned the hard way that cyclones are not docile manifestations of nature. They learned a similar lesson again in 1991. What happened then? Well, as seen in the bar chart to the right, the death toll from a cyclone in Bangladesh sharply increased
during that one year. It occurred because public communications regarding the flood majorly reached men. At that time, women tended to be homemakers and did not socialize outside of their houses as men did. This left a lot of women (and other minority groups) in Bangladesh behind and vulnerable to cyclone fatalities. 1991 taught Bengalis that the news of disaster has to reach everyone. As a result, the government has invested in means to bolster community engagement and accessible communications when it comes to natural disasters, such as hurricanes. For example, community education sessions towards diverse age groups on cyclones have increased, and thousands of volunteers are trained to help Bengalis evacuate when a cyclone is predicted to strike the country. Bangladesh has created a culture and community that is more environmentally sensitive, whereas human migration patterns in richer countries, such as the U.S., show that the culture to avert disaster is less present (DW Planet A).
Although America has wonderful technical solutions to manage natural disasters, what is seemingly missing is accessible communications and a lack of trust in the government (DW Planet A; Funk & Hefferon). In fact, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center Survey, the majority of Americans do not believe that the federal government is doing enough to protect the climate and limit climate change-related natural disasters. Clearly, America still needs to do more to be better at preparing for natural disasters.
DW Planet A. How Bangladesh Beat Europe at Fighting Floods - Youtube. DW Planet A, 22 Oct. 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rrtc8vBhlkI.
Frederikse, Thomas, et al. “The Causes of Sea-Level Rise since 1900.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 19 Aug. 2020, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2591-3#:~:text=Ice-mass%20loss%E2%80%94predominantly%20from,1900%20as%20has%20thermal%20expansion.&text=The%20acceleration%20in%20sea-level,ice-mass%20loss%20from%20Greenland.
Funk, Cary, and Meg Hefferon. “U.S. Public Views on Climate and Energy.” Pew Research Center Science & Society, Pew Research Center, 12 July 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2019/11/25/u-s-public-views-on-climate-and-energy/.
Goldberg, Barbara. “'Human Toll Was Tremendous': Ida's Death Count Rises While 600,000 Still Lack Power.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 6 Sept. 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/hurricane-ida-death-toll-us-northeast-rises-least-50-victims-2021-09-05/.
Hauer, Mathew E. “Migration Induced by Sea-Level Rise Could Reshape the US Population Landscape.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 17 Apr. 2017, https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate3271.
Irani, Bilkis. “Study: Bangladesh's Drowning Death Rate 5th Highest among Commonwealth Countries.” Dhaka Tribune, 13 July 2020, https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2020/07/13/study-bangladesh-s-drowning-death-rate-5th-highest-among-commonwealth-countries#:~:text=A%20study%20on%20drowning%20has,54%20Commonwealth%20countries%20in%202017.&text=Neighbouring%20Pakistan's%20drowning%20rate%20of,with%2013%2C046%20estimated%20fatal%20drownings.
Lenthang, Marlene. “Ida Latest: 82 Dead in 8 States, Power Slowly Returns after Storm.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 8 Sept. 2021, https://abcnews.go.com/US/ida-latest-69-dead-states-power-slowly-returns/story?id=79870885.
Sweet, William V, et al. The US State of High Tide Flooding a 2017 Recap and 2018 ... 6 June 2018, https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-content/sotc/national/2018/may/2017_State_of_US_High_Tide_Flooding.pdf.