How Bangladesh can protect its development gains through coastal resilience and a changing climate

This page in:
Coastal embankment in Bangladesh Coastal embankment in Bangladesh

Once a country with catastrophic cyclone-related death tolls, Bangladesh has, in 50 years, become a world leader in coastal resilience and an inspiration for other climate-vulnerable nations. 

A primary school that doubles as a cyclone shelter – capable of withstanding winds over 260 km an hour – is just one strategy that this river delta nation of 165 million is employing to shore up its coastal resilience and to confront the terrifying cyclones that pummel the coast annually with ever increasing frequency. Situated at the triangular head of the Bay of Bengal – a magnet for cyclones and a storm surge amplifier – the country now has an early-warning system that is capable of evacuating millions of people in 24 hours and coastal embankment systems that protect over 6,000 km of vulnerable coastline .

Thanks to decades of systematic investments in climate resilience, Bangladesh has married impressive economic growth with savvy cyclone preparedness to become a global leader in disaster risk reduction. 

Mobilizing community participation

Key to Bangladesh’s success has been the creation of the Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP) – an early warning system with more than 76,000 volunteers, half of whom are women.  In thousands of remote communities across the Bangladesh coastline and further inland, handpicked volunteers are trained in disaster preparation. Armed with up-to-date cyclone forecasting, volunteers go door-to-door - sometimes using megaphones from the turrets of local mosques – to usher households to cyclone shelters. For women, who are traditionally more vulnerable when it comes to cyclone and flooding risk, the CPP has saved countless lives. 

The model is both deceptively simple and surprisingly effective in terms of its community based social mobilization scale. It is rooted in the government’s strategic effort to move disaster management away from relief and rehabilitation and towards risk reduction and is enforced by a series of legislative, institutional, and regulatory frameworks including the Standing Orders on Disaster, the Disaster Management Act, the National Plan for Disaster Management.

coastal community volunteers in Bangladesh
Volunteers from the country's Cyclone Preparedness Program

In May 2021, when Cyclone Yaas made landfall, CPP volunteers directed local communities to the Char Chatkimara School in the southern coastal district of Bhola in Bangladesh. Built in 2018, the shelter is the product of the World Bank’s Multi-Purpose Disaster Shelter Project (MDSP) which is constructing and rehabilitating over 1,000 shelters and 550 kilometers of access roads. In the 1970s, the country had less than 100 shelters, now it has more than 5,000 – housing nearly five million people. 

Shelters provide much more than an educational hub and safety from a storm. The paved roads have seen a rise in three-wheeled motorized vehicles, which previously could not traverse the dirt roads. In the cyclone off-season, shelters serve as a vibrant community focal point, morphing between meeting place, polling station, and sometimes medical office.  Because of the school’s accessibility ramp, now children with disabilities can come to school.

Along with the MDSP, the World Bank’s Coastal Embankment Improvement Project-I and the Emergency Cyclone Recovery and Restoration Project has supported coastal communities and continues to safeguard their livelihoods.

In 2018, the government approved the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, which will invest two and half percent of the country’s GDP annually – approximately $6 billion – into shoring up its resilience and social and economic development. The ‘Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan’ will enhance resilience, grow Bangladesh’s economy, create jobs, and boost renewable energy while using action on climate change as the catalyst.

What more can be done?

In our recently published report, Bangladesh: Enhancing Coastal Resilience in a Changing Climate, a roadmap has been laid out for the country to strengthen the resilience of its coastal region in the face of a changing climate to protect its development gains.  This report complements the forthcoming Bangladesh Country Climate and Development Report (CCDR), the World Bank Group’s new core diagnostic report that integrate climate change and development considerations.

The report’s findings reveal key lessons from past interventions, a deep dive into how a risk-based strategy can be adopted from international best practices, as well as inspiration for future interventions based on more hybrid green and gray infrastructure and nature-based solutions. The seven recommendations are:

  1. Strengthen operations and maintenance to extract maximum benefits from investments and nurture sustainable interventions. 
  2. Embrace the uniqueness of the Bangladesh coast, recognize local knowledge, strengthen the application of state-of-the-art modeling tools and systems, and cultivate knowledge sharing.
  3. Apply risk as the guiding principle for adaptive delta management .
  4. Complement infrastructure interventions with nature-based solutions to enhance resilience and effectiveness.
  5. Incorporate risk-sensitive land-use planning to guide appropriate activities based on integrated coastal zone management practices.
  6. Support inclusive community participation, local institutions, and livelihoods adaptation for sustainable resilience. 
  7. Establish an integrated framework of performance criteria of interventions that goes beyond risk reduction and includes growth, wellbeing, and sustainable development at its core.

With global average temperatures already roughly one degree Celsius Warmer than they were in the 19th century, low-lying communities, especially in poorer regions, will suffer catastrophic losses. Many already are.

But Bangladesh offers an inspiring resilience model. In just 50 years, the country has invested in a robust disaster risk “supply chain” system of hydro meteorological advancements, early warning systems, protective infrastructure, nature-based solutions and a strategic framework and vision for the next century.

For countries grappling to narrow the ‘implementation gap’ between planning and action, Bangladesh’s success in building coastal resilience offers a roadmap for long term investments  in adaptation, community mobilization and disaster preparedness. While globally such achievements remain rare, Bangladesh’s coastal resilience success story – and the countless lives saved -- shows that adaptation to climate risks can be possible .

Full report: Kazi, Swarna; Urrutia, Ignacio; van Ledden, Mathijs; Laboyrie, Jean Henry; Verschuur, Jasper; Haque Khan, Zahir-ul; Jongejan, Ruben; Lendering, Kasper; Mancheño, Alejandra Gijón. 2022. Bangladesh: Enhancing Coastal Resilience in a Changing Climate. ©World Bank.


Swarna Kazi

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Ignacio Urrutia

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000