Yunus Ali owns a small drug store in his village in Sirajganj district. He is also a farmer. A flood in 2007 destroyed all of his crops and damaged the stock in his shop. Recalling the flood, he said ‘This flood almost destroyed everything I worked so hard to make. I didn’t know how long it would take for me recover from it.’
Sirajganj is a low-lying district in the north of Bangladesh. Flooding is a regular occurrence, causing damage to crops, livestock and property. However, with early warnings, people can minimise their losses: ‘If we have the information we can prepare for the coming flood. We can take our livestock to higher ground or store some food for the next few days’, Yunus said.
With technical support from the joint Government of Bangladesh-UNDP Comprehensive Disaster Management Program, Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Bureau has piloted the use of an early warning system for communities at risk from floods and cyclones.
Information about water levels and 72-hour forecasting are collected from the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre and the Bangladesh Meteorological Department. Warnings are then broadcast through the mobile phone network to areas at risk. This early warning system is strengthening disaster response and contributing to national disaster management capacity and coordination. It is also protecting the livelihoods of people like Yunus Ali.
In the 2010 flood season, Yunus received a message on his mobile phone alerting him to rising water levels in the Jamuna River. ‘Because of the early warning messages, I could save my crop and store from the flood. I gathered everyone to harvest my crop and moved the medicine shelves to higher ground to keep them above the flood waters.’
‘This is the first time we have received warning messages directly. Because of this message everyone from our village could take steps to save their property. If we get this kind of warning every time there is a possibility of flood, we will be able to minimise our losses’, Yunus said.
Community warning systems are being improved and expanded to 40 districts of Bangladesh at risk of floods and cyclones. The Comprehensive Disaster Management Program is supported by AusAID under the Bangladesh Climate Change Initiative.