Located in the coastal area of the Chittagong District in Bangladesh, Baharchora Union is prone to various natural hazards including storms, tropical cyclones, flashfloods, storm surges and salinity. In the last fifteen years, community members of Baharchora have been dealt with at least five major cyclones: Sidr in 2007; Nargis in 2008; Roanu in 2016; Tornado and Mora in 2017. These catastrophic events damaged houses and livestock causing injury and death. Cyclones have also put the two major livelihood options in the Baharchora Union, fresh water fishing and agriculture, at stake due to their direct impact on fresh water resources. Many community members have lost their livelihoods, resulting in drastic declines of household income.

With around 50, 000 people live in the Union, disaster risk reduction plans and actions are urgently needed in Baharchora. Responding to the situation, the Centre for Disability and Development (CDD) Bangladesh carried out a project titled the Inclusive Implementation of the Commitments and Priorities of the Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction in Bangladesh. Started in early 2018, the project has been run under the Disability-inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction Network (DiDRRN) consortium and supported by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).     

As part of the project, CDD collaborated with community members and local authorities in Baharchora to organise a multi-hazards simulation exercise. This activity was aimed to raise awareness and prepare the community for disaster through a series of disaster scenarios. Besides the apparent objective, this exercise was also intended to promote inclusion of persons with disabilities in local disaster management process. Roles of persons with disabilities and the local disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) were highlighted throughout the activities. 

Taking place in April 2019 at Baharchora Ratnopur High School (the main evacuation point in the Union), the simulation exercise was divided into five sections where key stages in disaster emergency management were demonstrated. Critical procedures such as risk assessment, identification of the most-at-risk groups, accessible early warning mechanisms and evacuation to shelter as well as shelter management were practiced. This exercise provided opportunities for local authorities and community members to identify ‘who does what’ if an emergency situation occurs. It was also pointed out during the exercise that priority assistance for the most-at-risk groups, particularly persons with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women and children, is highly required during an emergency situation.

The local government and community members in Baharchora Union highly appreciated the inclusive approach, which was a focal point during the simulation exercise as well as throughout CDD’s project implementation. More than 900 people took part in the simulation exercise, including 39 persons with disabilities. Involvement of all community representatives, particularly persons with disabilities and the DPOs, gave a broader view to the local disaster management actors on the importance of inclusion and how to apply it in their role and responsibility. Better understanding of inclusion is critical to save more lives in the event of disasters. The Union Chairman mentioned that there was never an event like this before and he thanked CDD and the supporting parties who had successfully organised it.

Photo credit: Leya Russell for Photographers Without Borders 2019