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Bangladesh: UN helps monsoon-affected river communities before peak flooding hits

15 Jul 2020

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Women receive dignity kits from UNFPA, distributed by CARE Bangladesh and local partners, in Kurigram District, Bangladesh, 13 July 2020. Credit: UNFPA

In an innovative approach to dealing with the effects of severe flooding in Bangladesh, the United Nations is using the latest in data and predictive analytics to forecast the next major monsoon floods, gauge likely impacts – and take action – before possible disaster hits. 

On 4 July, a high probability of severe flooding was forecast for mid-July along the Jamuna River in Bangladesh, with one third of the area’s total population likely to be affected. That warning was the trigger for the UN to immediately release $5.2 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help communities urgently prepare and protect themselves. 

On 11 July, the activation trigger was reached when forecasting predicted the floods would reach critical levels in five days. At this point, aid workers began distributing the aid. This was the fastest CERF allocation in history – within four hours of the trigger being activated, the delivery agencies had been given authority to spend the money.

The CERF money went to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to enable them to prepare to distribute cash, livestock feed, storage drums, and hygiene, dignity and health kits.

“Innovations like this are the bright spots in a bleak humanitarian outlook. Advances in data and predictive analytics mean we can predict many crises and take action as soon as we know the problem is coming. If disasters take us by surprise, it’s because we weren’t looking,” said Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to climate-related shocks and stresses, including monsoon flooding. In an average year, approximately one quarter of the country is inundated.

“Working alongside government, staff from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the three UN agencies and implementing partners began giving communities at risk in the Bogura, Gaibandha, Kurigram, Jamalpur and Sirajgonj districts the means to protect themselves and their livelihoods from the worst effects of the floods," said Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh.