Coxs Bazar Bangladesh Photo by Shomitro Kumar Ghosh on Unsplash

Indigenous Knowledge for Disaster Preparedness in Cox’s Bazar

Nature gives us many warnings about a natural disaster. And awareness of these signs helps in reducing damage, as I learned in a workshop on disaster management 

It was an unusual trip to Bangladesh in 2010. I was invited by the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS), Delhi, to attend a disaster management workshop in Bangladesh. IRCS is a part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Cox’s Bazar is prone to storms and cyclones, as the coastal city is built along the Bay of Bengal on a floodplain that is lower in elevation than the sand dunes.

Since I had never been to this neighbouring country, I took the flight to Cox’s Bazar. It is said to be the longest unbroken sea beach in the world, stretching to almost 150km. Located in the southeastern part of the country, it is a famous fishing port and now a Rohingya refugee camp. Unfortunately, in those days I only used a minimum of my brains and life was limited to safe words. Thanks to blogging, in 2016 I learned photography and videos and grew out of my inhibitions.

Bangladesh was different from what I expected. It was an almost empty plane that took off from Delhi to Dhaka. The IRCS put me up in a hotel in a diplomatic area. There was even a mall nearby. I did see the famous colourful rickshaws too. The next day, it was flight to Cox’s Bazar in a small plane which really shook a lot.

Beach shop , Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Image by Mohammad Khaled Masud from Pixabay
Beach shop , Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Image by Mohammad Khaled Masud from Pixabay

I recall that I didn’t have language problems. I remember the families enjoying on the beach. There were different kinds of boats and a market nearby. It has many handicrafts like all small towns and plenty made with seashells. I bought two big seashell coasters which have lasted me a decade.

The Workshop

I had missed the trip to the island where the villagers were given a training session on cyclone and disaster management. But I did attend the training on land. To spread awareness on reducing damage by natural disasters, the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and Red Crescent Societies, South Asia Regional Delegation, organised a four-day workshop ‘Indigenous Knowledge on Disaster Risk Reduction’. It was attended by 40 participants from 10 countries, who collected data from 16 areas in Cox’s Bazar district. The workshop was part of the ‘Building Safer Communities’ initiative supported by DIPECHO, European Commission.

Documenting indigenous knowledge will help in building safer communities, make the people resilient and give them a better chance to handle natural disasters

Village Visit

A group of women sat on a bamboo mat in their bamboo abode, telling us how the cyclone of 1991 in Bangladesh changed their lives. Most of them were children at that time and remembered that all the homes in their village Sadarin Gomtuli, district Cox’s Bazar, were damaged, “There was no early warning system. Then we had workshops on Cyclone Preparedness Programme by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. We were taught to be ready for this natural disaster to minimise loss. A cyclone shelter was built within 1.5 km radius, so that everyone could reach it easily, During the cyclone in 1997, we managed to survive in a better manner,” said the 31-year-old Dildar Begum.

A village woman in Bangladesh, Photo by Balaram Mahalder, Wikimedia
A village woman in Bangladesh, Photo by Balaram Mahalder, Wikimedia

Signs that a cyclone is approaching

1. Fast moving clouds without any surface wind and sound.
2. Unbearable heat, even without sun.
3. Increase in catch of certain fish, and reckless movement of the fish in water.
4. Excessive production of mango, jackfruit, paddy.
5. Cows moo during the night.
6. Increase in height of tide and the number of termites.
7. Sky turns black and it the drizzles before the cyclone.
8. Wind blows from the northeast.
9. High mosquito breeding.

How to cope with natural disaster

  1. Make an underground place for storage of dry food.
  2. Put cooking utensils in a gunny bag and dip in a pond.
  3. Eat two cooked meals to make stored food last longer, rice with salt.
  4. To cure dehydration, mix salt with coconut water.
  5. Store money underground in earthen pots.
  6. Burn rubber to prevent mosquitoes.
  7. Clean water with alum or lime.
  8. Use the banana tree to clean the water.
  9. Plant trees around the house.
  10. Remove the tube well head and cover it with polythene.
  11. Use cow dung in the fields to prevent salinity.
Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh, Image by Mohammad Khaled Masud from Pixabay

What is the indigenous technology that can combat cyclones? 

  1. Low height houses.
  2. Women tie their saris and hair, so they don’t blow away and get caught in some rubble.
  3. Special lightweight boats are built, with narrow angles in the front and less width.
  4. Homemade stoves of jerry cans.
  5. Cover the ponds with net so that the fish don’t run away.
  6. Make bamboo rafts.

What are the traditional beliefs and practices of that region?

1. Imams offer special prayers
2. Ants start making a circle
3. Excess heat during April and June means a possible cyclone.

The villagers were also given training on alternative livelihoods, besides farming. These included gardening, handicrafts, seasonal migration for work outside. 

Considering that climate change has hit us hard, we could all use the knowledge of our ancestors and indigenous people to help reverse some of the damage.

Bangladesh, Swagat, April 2010

This article first appeared in Swagat,
Air India’s now defunct magazine, in April 2010 issue.

Do you have any ideas on how we can survive natural disasters? If yes, please do share in the comments section below.

15 thoughts on “Indigenous Knowledge for Disaster Preparedness in Cox’s Bazar

  1. Here in USA, schools often organized many workshop for natural disaster management. my girls had learnt a lot from these workshops. this one was a great initiative by the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS), Delhi, and I loved reading your experience regarding this. thanks a lot for sharing all insight about cyclone warning and management.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nature do give hints about the change and when we are observant then copeup after disaster is quick. Good to know about facts like ants going in circle. And having an alternate livelihood is always good so that entire family do not suffer.

    Liked by 1 person

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