Bangladesh, India: Hot Spots for Disaster

At least 3,100 people have died in Bangladesh as a result of a cyclone that hit the south Asian nation on Nov. 15. A study shows that Bangladesh and its neighbor India are two of the top three hot spots for natural disasters.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

A little news from overseas. At least 3,100 people died in Bangladesh after a cyclone hit the South Asian nation on November 15. Seventeen hundred people are still reported missing and more than 360,000 are homeless and in need of supplies. Now that area of the world has been hit hard again and again and again by natural disasters.

A 2006 study entitled national - excuse me - Natural Disaster Hotspots: A Global Risk Analysis found Bangladesh and its neighbor India are among the number two and three mortality-risk hotspots respectively just behind China.

Now, Margaret Arnold was the leader of that study. She's head of the ProVention Consortium Secretariat, a partnership of groups including the World Bank and the Red Cross. It helps to seek the bridge between the gap, between humanitarian and development. She joins us now from Geneva, Switzerland where she's working with the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Margaret, thanks for taking the time.

Ms. MARGARET ARNOLD (ProVention Consortium Secretariat): Sure, thanks for having me.

STEWART: A very basic question to start out. What factors have to come together to make an area like Bangladesh a natural disaster hotspot?

Ms. ARNOLD: Well, there's a basically two factors that contribute to the disaster vulnerability. One is a country's geography, and so that's very much related to our natural exposure and, you know, whether they're on a seismic area or an area that gets hit by cyclones quite often and the other is where and how we build.

So it's all depends on us as human beings and how we organize ourselves and how we develop. And both those factors are - there's pressures on both those sides that is increasing the number of disasters that we see nowadays.

Climate change is certainly increasing the number of hazard events that occur each year. And then turning those hazard events into disasters is increasing because we have population growth, we have unplanned urbanization, we have environmental degradation. So all of those factors about how and where we build and organize ourselves are contributing to a higher level of vulnerability to disasters.

STEWART: I know one of the goals of your work is to bridge the gap between humanitarian assistance and development. Where is that gap most apparent?

Ms. ARNOLD: Well, it's most apparent in - on the ground, in the field when we see communities that are affected by these events. Humanitarian field and the development field have kind of developed as separate industries. And you know, we shouldn't be shy about saying they are industries.

And, so they've developed quite separately and a lot needs to be done so that we speak each other's language and learn from each other because whether - yeah, we tend to talk about this continuum of - or the disaster cycle of - you have a disaster, you have a disaster impact and then you have a relief phase where you're doing, you know, search and rescue and getting people blankets and tents and things.

And then you move into a kind of rehabilitation and reconstruction recovery and then on the path to development. But these phases are artificial lines that governments and international agencies have developed for our purposes. But to people affected by disasters, they mean nothing and they all overlap with each other and, you know, you have people living in many places, poor people that are in a constant state of recovery because they can't recover from one event before another one hits them.

And so they're just completely dependent on relief assistance as a kind of a permanent coping mechanism.

STEWART: I have a question about it first and actually for you, the Bangladesh government asked foreign donors about 500 tons - a hundred thousand tons of rice. The U.K. has up its aid package. This week, U.S. Navy teams delivered clean water, food and medical supplies, but when disasters happen over and over again in certain parts of the world, is there ever fatigue when it comes to trying to raise money?

Ms. ARNOLD: Sure. There is fatigue, and I think we saw that. We saw an overwhelmingly generous response after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. And then, I know there was a feeling that when the Pakistan earthquake happened less than a year later, that there wasn't as generous an outpouring for response.

And, you know, so we see these in many times and there's so many disasters happening now. You have one event in one part of the world. And, if something happens and another bigger than that, the attention will be diverted. But one thing is clear is that it still always easier to raise money for the response and the reaction than it is for the prevention and risk reduction effort that need to be - that need to have more investments put in them.

STEWART: And maybe that's a lesson that we should take away from this segment. You know what? We're going to link through to your study.

Thank you so much for explaining some of the details of it. Margaret Arnold heads the ProVention Consortium Secretariat. Thank you.

Ms. ARNOLD: Sure, my pleasure.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

Next up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, the first ever Jam Awards, and tonight, they honor folks who've done good work in hip-hop community. We'll talk to the co-founders in just a few minutes. That's on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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