On the 15th of November, 2007, Cyclone Sidr,

On the 15th of November, 2007, Cyclone Sidr, one of the worst natural disasters Bangladesh has ever experienced, struck the south-west coast of the country, devastating coastal communities everywhere. Areas in Bangladesh, West Bengal and Northeast India were affected. The powerful category 4 storm was accompanied by tidal surges up to five meters high, and heavy rainfall.  Strong winds reaching 240km/h swept through the districts, causing numerous deaths and leaving trails of destruction in its wake. The total damage and losses believed to be caused by the cyclone was estimated to be around a staggering. HKD $10 billion.

The cyclone claimed at least 4,000 lives, and affected some 5.5 million others. In this essay, I will be arguing three key points based around social, economic and environmental reasons, and discussing the short and long term impacts of my response strategies. The purpose of this essay is to justify my decisions regarding how to respond to the Cyclone Sidr disaster, using my budget of HKD $1,000,000,000. After much thought and careful calculations, I have decided to use a combination of options 3 and 4 to help respond to the cyclone in Bangladesh. Option 3 requires the government to develop the existing rural homes by raising them up on stilts to avoid the deep flood waters, and to help citizens retain their property and belongings, at the cost of HKD $5000 per home. A total of 100,000 homes will be helped, and the operation cost will be around HKD $500,000,000.

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The remaining HKD $500,000,000 leftover from the budget will be used to fund Option 4, which involves the afforestation of the Himalayan regions and coastal Sundarbans, including mangroves. The forest will cover approximately 500km2 of land. I decided to go with a combination of  options 3 and 4 because they are a mixture of strategies that I believe will solve both the short term and long term problems Cyclone Sidr has created in Bangladesh. Option 3 will solve the relatively short-term social and economical difficulties Bangladesh villagers are currently facing, whilst Option 4 will deal with the environmental issues.

But first, I will justify my decision to use Option 3. “Cyclone Sidr tore a hole in my roof and caused the walls to collapse,” said Amjad Khatun. “Many of my belongings were also either washed away or ruined. This has put my family and I in a difficult situation economically,” he added.

Many Bangladeshis are finding themselves in a similar situation as Amjad after Cyclone Sidr wrecked their homes. Option 3 allows us, as the government, to provide additional economical support for those struggling to retain their belongings and rebuild their homes. In addition to that, we will provide funds to help villagers develop and upgrade their homes in order to prepare themselves adequately for the next cyclone. After much research, we discovered that 70% of homes in the coastal districts were less than 1 meter sea level. To solve the short-term problem of villagers being stranded by the flooding, we will raise all homes on stilts 3 meters above ground level to avoid the storm surges and disease-ridden floodwaters, a secondary impact of the cyclone caused by extensive flooding and water in sewage pipes. The addition of stilts will also greatly reduce the chances of drowning.

We also discovered that many houses were of poor quality, built from any scraps of metal and wood the villagers could find. This meant that the houses themselves were extremely weak and explained why so many houses were wrecked or destroyed in the cyclone. Our aim is to rebuild the homes from strong reinforced concrete, or at the very least, a sturdier material, so that the homes will not collapse as easily and will be able to withstand the strong winds of a cyclone.

We will also add steel shutters to the windows to protect families from flying debris. By choosing this option, we are able to place focus on ensuring that families and homes will be better prepared for the next natural disaster.  However, despite the many advantages of choosing this option, there are numerous disadvantages as well. Homes will still  remain exposed to high winds, although the rebuilding of the homes with better materials will help slightly.

Adding stilts to every home and rebuilding them is quite a long process and will take months. It might not be socially or economically ideal for families to move elsewhere temporarily while the construction is going on. Some may argue that Option 1, which involves relocating families who live within 50km of the sea to new homes on higher ground, would be a better alternative. I disagree. Relocating would require families to move somewhere else and leave behind their cultivable farmland, livestock and possessions. 60% of the population are farmers and 59% of the land in Bangladesh is used for agriculture. Leaving behind  their only source of income and food is something they can’t afford to do. The coastal zone of Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

The coastal populations are mostly poor, some of them are landless and they earn their livelihood through agriculture, fishing, shrimp farming, salt farming etc. As they are poor, they are severely affected by climate related disasters, like Cyclone Sidr. Disasters like Cyclone Sidr destroy their livelihood options. I believe Option 4, mangrove afforestation, is the best long term solution to reduce Bangladesh’ vulnerability to cyclones and other coastal hazards. The social, economic and environmental benefits of growing mangroves are huge. Some might argue that Option 2, which involves investing in hard engineering sea defences, would be a much more realistic solution. I disagree with this as well. I believe that man-made or engineered solutions are not the only ones to protect the coasts.

Building sea walls and other hard engineering sea defences is expensive, the maintenance cost is extremely high and the walls will begin to erode at some point. I am not against engineering and modern solutions, but a natural solution offers much more. Replanting coastal mangrove forests intact or replanting them is cheaper than building man-made structures, and they can also regulate rainfall, reduce the risk of disasters from sea-level rise, provide breeding grounds for fish, fight coastal erosion and capture carbon dioxide to slow climate change. We have Bangladeshis’ best interests in mind and choosing this option will be the most beneficial for Bangladesh.


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