The low-lying coastal areas are particularly vulnerable, thus placing these population, infrastructure, agriculture, livestock and economic development in a high-risk situation.


M Alimullah Miyan
South Asian Disaster Management Center (SADMC)
IUBAT—International University of Business Agriculture and Technology
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Proceedings of The Second Regional Technical Conference on Tropical Cyclones, Storm Surges and Floods.
Published by Secretariat of The World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, 2005, as World Meteorological
Organization Technical Document (WMO/TD-No 1272), Tropical Cyclone Programme, Report No. TCP-51.



Bangladesh extends between 21o and 27o North latitude and 88o and 92.5o East longitude. The Bay of Bengal is in the south side of the country. The total area is 144,000 sq km and size of population is around 123 million (2001). Per capita income is around US$ 364, one of the lowest in the world.

Most people live in rural areas and the literacy rate is low. The country has a unitary form of government with parliamentary democracy. Radio and television cover most areas of Bangladesh providing opportunity for easy communication flow. The country faces grave poverty conditions, which are accentuated by natural calamities like cyclone.

The country has been subjected to frequent natural disasters in many forms, particularly cyclonic storms and tidal surges. From 1797 to 1998, 67 major cyclone storms and tidal surges have been reported. These indicate that Bangladesh is prone to frequent destructive tropical cyclones associated with tidal surge, particularly in pre-monsoon months of April-May and post-monsoon months of October-November. The low-lying coastal areas are particularly vulnerable, thus placing these population, infrastructure, agriculture, livestock and economic development in a high-risk situation. Cyclone disaster mitigation is a major concern in Bangladesh.

Cyclone and Coastal Environment

The coastal land of Bangladesh (710 km long) is of recent origin formed out of the process of sedimentation. Most parts of the area are, therefore, low lying which can be subject to inundation even under ordinary circumstances of tides. A tidal surge accompanied by a cyclone storm makes the situation alarming which is further exacerbated by the triangular shape of the Bay of Bengal. The wide shallow continental shelf is conducive to amplification of surges causing wide spread flooding.

The human settlements in the coastal areas are mostly developed in an unorganized and isolated manner, primarily due to population pressure. In such a situation, community efforts to cope with disasters become extremely difficult.

There are certain environmental conditions which lead to development of cyclones making the coastal human settlements vulnerable to destruction.

Cyclone Warning System in Bangladesh

Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) is the source of cyclone warning in Bangladesh. BMD generates the warning and passes this on to public media and preparedness units for dissemination and follow-up action at periodic intervals. There are separate warning system for maritime ports and river ports. These have been elaborated and analyzed to point out the weakness of cyclone warning and special weather bulletins issued by BMD.

Standing Orders for Cyclones

The Standing Orders for Cyclone (SOC) proclaimed by the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) as of November, 1985 and updated thereafter constitute the basic plan for coping with cyclone disasters. SOC laid down the guidelines for action at various stages of disaster by all government agencies to cope with situation arising out of cyclone havoc. These steps have been elaborated in the paper.

Institutional Arrangement

Being a disaster prune country, elaborate institutional arrangements are in place to deal with disasters, including cyclones. There are three committees and three institutions at the apex level namely National Disaster Management Council, headed by Prime Minister, Inter Ministerial Disaster Management Committee headed by Minister, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MDMR), National Disaster Management Advisory Council, MDMR, Disaster Management Bureau and Directorate of Relief and Rehabilitation. There are broad based Disaster Management Committees in the field levels at district, upazilla and union headed by deputy commissioner, upazilla nirbahi officer and chairman at respective areas.

However, the most dedicated agency for cyclone disaster information dissemination and mobilization at the coastal level is the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP). The CPP is an organization of large contingent of volunteers at the field who carry out the important function of mobilizing people at the community level to cope with cyclones. The activities of the CPP have been covered in the paper along with an evaluation of the institutional arrangement for mitigation of cyclones.

Mitigation Measures

The vulnerability of coastal population to cyclones and accompanying surges calls for various mitigational measures, some of which are already in place. Structural mitigational measures like cyclone shelters, killas, coastal embankment, improving housing conditions and the like as well as non-structural mitigation measures like coastal afforestation, public awareness, community preparedness, local level contingency planning, social mobilization etc have been investigated in this section.

Lessons of April 1991 Cyclone

The cyclone which struck Bangladesh on the night of 29-30, April, 1991 was particularly severe causing widespread damage, killing 138,882 people. There has been massive damage to life line systems as well as private properties. Total loss has been estimated at US$2.07 billion dollars for all sectors.

The management of April cyclone provided valuable experiences to prepare for future to minimize losses of life and property and restoring normalcy at a faster pace. These have been identified and reflected upon for lessons to improve cyclone warning and mitigation in Bangladesh and the region.

Activities in Progress

Following the devastating cyclone of 1991, disaster management activities have been upgraded through a 3 year UNDP technical assistance project of 5 million US dollars involving various programmatic steps. The result of which was observable in the public response to 1994 cyclone.

Another comprehensive Disaster Management Programme, with technical assistance of UNDP is presently in operation for integration of disaster and development concept as well as for improvement in coordination in response to disasters at all levels. The different components of the programme have been reported upon with indication of desirable direction for cyclone related mitigation.


The paper pointed to considerable progress that has been made in cyclone disaster mitigation as well as further efforts required in reducing loss of life and properties through cyclones. The activities relating to review and finalization of disaster management policy, law and national plan need to be pursued in earnestness along with strengthening of institutional mechanisms through decentralization and local level disaster planning. The planning process at the central level need to recognize the interface between disaster and development. There is also a need to mount a high level awareness and advocacy programme to create a better level of perception of disaster management.

All these and related activities call for a higher level of investment in preparedness, shelter construction, institutional arrangement, policy formulation and community involvement for improved cyclone disaster mitigation in Bangladesh.

Published: 21 Jul 2005

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Proceedings of The Second Regional Technical Conference on Tropical Cyclones, Storm Surges and Floods