Cyclone In Bangladesh: Response and Preparedness

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

April 1991 Cyclone in Bangladesh: Response and Preparedness published in the Proceedings of International Conference on Storms: Storms Science to
Disaster Mitigation, AMOS Publication No 20, UniPrint Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Australia, June 2005.


M Alimullah Miyan
South Asian Disaster Management Cernter (SADMC)
IUBAT—International University of Business Agriculture and Technology
Dhaka, Bangladesh
E-mail: [email protected]

I. Introduction

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.

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 country has been subjected to frequent natural disasters in many forms, particularly cyclonic storms and tidal surges. From 1797 to 1991, 60 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. Preparedness for cyclone is a major concern in Bangladesh.

II. The 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 government, people and friends around the world worked together in minimizing the impact of the calamity through preparedness as mitigation measures as well as coping with the aftermath. A democratically elected government, after only 39 days in office, had to face this calamity. Considerable political will and skill was demonstrated in dealing with the situation. Administrative arrangements with a decentralised authority structure was in place within 48 hours of the event. Government and non-government organizations (NGOs) worked in a coordinated manner to bring relief to suffering people. The task was too great and scope remained for improving the situation. Different aspects of the devastating cyclone have been covered in this paper.

III. Forecast of the Cyclone

The cyclone warning system consists of 11 signals for the maritime ports. These signals are issued in accordance with the scale and location of the storm with respect to a port. Warnings are disseminated through radio and televisions, telephones, telegraphs, press, radios, etc.

Initially, the cyclonic storm was detected as a low pressure area over the Southeast Bay and adjoining Andaman sea on 23 April. Finally, the cyclone of hurricane intensity crossed the Chittagong coast a little north of Chittagong at 2 a. m. of 30 April, 1991.The aspects of the detection of the cyclone, its monitoring and prediction and weakness of warning and special weather bulletins have been reflected upon.

IV. Damage Caused by 1991 Cyclone

The loss in human lives was to the tune of 1,38,882 and nearly 11 million people were affected. The economic loss was to the tune of 2.07 billion-US dollars. About one hundred thanas (sub-districts) were affected by the April 1991 cyclone. Most of the worst affected thanas are either off-shore islands or coastal thanas. The less affected thanas are mostly located inside and further from the coast. Different dimensions of the damage caused will be analyzed and commented upon. The table below illustrates the extent of damage caused:

Table Showing Damages Caused in Devastating
Cyclone of 29-30, April, 1991.

1. Total affected districts : 19
2. Total affected subdistricts (thanas) : 102
3. Total affected municipalities : 9
4. Total number of affected population : 10,798,275
5. Damages to crops (area in acres) : 9,24,893
6. Total number of houses damaged : 1,7,02,358
7. Total number of people died : 1,38,882
8. Total number of animal died : 1,061,029
9. Total number of people injured : 1,39,054
10.Total number of educational institutions damaged : 9,666
11.Total area of earthen-roads damaged (in miles) : 764
12.Total number of bridges, & culverts damaged : 496
13.Total length of embankments damaged(in miles) : 707
14.Number of people missing : 1,225

V. Preparedness Measures

There are standing procedures for dissemination of cyclone warnings generated by the Bangladesh Meteorology Department (BMD) through public media and the Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP) of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. The operation of these procedures in the case of April 1991 cyclone in terms of public response, relief and rehabilitation and international response have been analyzed and evaluated in this paper.

VI. Future Preparedness

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 were identified and reflected upon for lessons to improve cyclone warning and mitigation in Bangladesh and the region.

VII. Conclusion

The paper concluded by bringing out the implications of the findings and analysis as well as highlighting the need for investment in preparedness, institutional arrangement and policy frame for protecting coastal belt inhabitants form the severe affect of cyclonic disasters.

Published: 07 Sep 2005

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Proceedings of International Conference on Storms: Storms Science to Disaster Mitigation