Specialized body to deal with disasters

Publish: 4:39 PM, October 15, 2018 | Update: 4:39:PM, October 15, 2018

We have a disaster management ministry. Nonetheless, it is no overstatement to say that preparing for disasters of all sorts and coping with them call for a greater engagement by the government in all respects. The incidents of building collapse and fire incidents in past years that posed serious problems in clearing the collapsed structures or dousing out the fires, showed up that capacities were somewhat lagging to face up to such situations quickly and very effectively. Although Bangladesh has earned a good name for dealing with disasters, internationally, the same are actually and mainly limited to battling such natural disasters as cyclones in the coastal areas.
But it cannot be said that our abilities for dealing with the destructions of the type noted in the Dhaka region from building collapse, fire incidents, etc., have similarly improved very much. The fire department is spread thin all over the country. But it is expected to be the first actor to respond to calls for rescue be it a case of fire or a building collapse. Only about 1,500 fire fighters are available for the Dhakaregion and their equipment are not sufficient to take on successfully big fire incidents. In the event of several major fire incidents, they would be found very hard pressed to cope successfully with all of them. The available equipment with them are not capable of reaching well above three stories.
In the event of an earthquake of the sort that have been predicted for Dhaka causing a series of building collapses, the capacity of the present fire department would be simply overwhelmed. Thus, there is a compelling need to add to the capacities of the fire fighting department. Its regular members need to be increased largely to maintain an appropriate number for discharging duties in Dhaka city and elsewhere.
Volunteers in large number also need to be raised and drilled well for duty under any disaster situations like earthquakes in the urban areas. Rescue equipment like heavy cranes and other gears are practically few at the disposal of the fire service. But government should aim to get them in adequate number under a time-bound framework and train personnel for operating them quickly and efficiently . In sum, government should beef up its abilities to draw from in the event of large scale disasters striking specially the urban areas. The preparedness should include both manpower and equipment.
The urban areas likeDhaka are in need of special protection as they hold the major concentrations of wealth or assets in the country. Resources are scarce and, therefore, preparations need to be taken to reduce the impact of disasters and in cases of their happening, to keep economic losses in different forms as low as possible.
One may contend that there are always disciplined forces like the armed forces to be deployed on a large scale to cope with disaster conditions like earthquakes, building collapses, storms, etc. But it needs to be realized by policymakers that it is professionally neither the tasks nor the field of expertise of the armed forces to be engaged in this manner. Professionally, their main tasks is to militarily fight foreign enemy forces from across the borders and they are expressly trained for that purpose.
The forces of the 9th Army Division just happened to be stationed near the building collapse site at Savar some years ago and members of its engineering wing could be used to good advantage for rescue efforts and rubble clearing during the Rana Plaza tragedy. But professionally they are neither equipped nor motivated or trained to deal with such situations. That they did a good job nevertheless, is our good fortune. But it is not logical or practical to demand or to get similar services from the armed forces in all such cases. Thus, it is only normal to think and expect that effective trained bodies of volunteers, regular employees to be paid from the public purse, they should be systematically raised, trained and supported by appropriate logistical capacities, to work in the aftermath of disaster situations. Such a body or organization can be raised and maintained exclusively under the Disaster Management Ministry for optimum and timely activities when faced with disaster conditions.