13/11/2013 – Though 16-year-old Rashedul Hasan Abir is grappling with Down’s syndrome, which severely inhibits intellectual development in children, his sense of the challenges facing his country is acute. His aesthetically painted artwork awash with water invokes the memory of the famous Hollywood film “Waterworld”, where humans are forced to live in subterranean conditions after a dramatic sea-level rise following the melting of the polar ice caps. If that were to actually happen, as some climate change experts have warned, his country would be one of the first to bear the brunt.
However, a rise in sea levels is not the only concern of the over 150 million Bangladeshis. In any given year, the country is battered by rains, cyclones and landslides affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Only recently, in May this year, Cyclone Mahasen caused widespread destruction in the coastal regions of Bangladesh. This was followed by torrential rains in the northern part of the country that flooded vast swathes of agricultural land.
Abir sketched this telltale painting during an art competition that was held to celebrate the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on 13 October. Organised by the National Alliance for Risk Reduction and Response Initiative (NARRI), the competition was only open to children with disabilities to celebrate this year’s global theme of “Living with Disabilities and Disasters”, set by the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Office. NARRI is a coalition of eight nongovernmental organisations and is working to strengthen disaster preparedness and risk reduction efforts in Bangladesh. It is supported by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) under its worldwide disaster preparedness programme, DIPECHO.
After his painting was judged the best from a total of 25 other submissions, Abir who hails from Sirajgonj district, pointing at his painting explained, “this water, flood, wind, rain, trees cause disaster’. Excited to have won, he said he would love to participate in similar competitions in the future. His mother and caregiver, Ms. Nahid Sultana, however, expressed concern that children living with disabilities have limited opportunity to participate in such creative events, and added that “preparedness knowledge on disaster that one learns from these events is very important for our children so that they can cope with disaster and learn lifesaving skills”.
The art competition not only lighted the hearts of children and their families, but struck a chord with someone who could make a lasting change in the lives of these people. “This is the first time I have seen such type of creative event being organised here since I joined two years ago”, said Zahid Hasan, Social Welfare Officer with the local disaster management committee. “Now I realise that we need to incorporate the concerns of people living with disabilities in our community”.
While the event underscored the importance of protecting the most vulnerable sections of the society from disasters, Abir’s painting serves as a reminder to the world that the threat of climate change should be taken seriously.
In May 2013, the ECHO-supported NARRI consortium received the UN-Sasakawa award, one of the most prestigious global awards in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction, recognising its achievements in Bangladesh. The consortium works with communities to reduce the risk of disasters by strengthening their capacities to assess disaster risks and take measures to mitigate them, always working in partnership with the Bangladeshi government, for whom they have also developed training curriculums. ECHO has been funding this initiative since 2011.
Since 2001, ECHO’s total contribution to community-based disaster preparedness programmes in Bangladesh exceeds €12 million.
By Nurul Islam Sarker, Obaidul Islam Munna and Khemraj Upadhyay, NARRI