The Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) in Bangladesh is a good example of an efficient cyclone preparedness, warning dissemination and response system. The CPP is a collaboration between the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. It was established in 1972 by the Red Cross two years after a super cyclone that killed around half a million people. The CPP became a government programme in July 1973. The Standing Orders on Disaster of 2010, the National Plan for Disaster Management 20102015 and the National Disaster Management Act of 2012 guide disaster management in Bangladesh. These major documents define the roles of CPP volunteers and officials from local to national level.
Over the last four decades, CPP volunteers have played a significant role in disseminating early warning and saving lives. In 2007, for example, on the advice of CPP volunteers and other humanitarian agencies, around 1.5 million people took refuge in cyclone shelters when Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh. Cyclone Mahasen of May 2013 is the latest example of mass evacuation. The CPP currently has 49,365 volunteers (32,910 men and 16,455 women), covering a significant proportion of Bangladesh’s 160m people.
The CPP is strictly regulated. To become a volunteer one has to meet a number of criteria, including age (1830 years), educational level and financial solvency, and volunteers should be able to pay an induction fee and a fixed annual fee. Given Bangladesh’s socio-economic conditions, these are challenging criteria. A candidate also has to go through a rigorous selection process, examination and probation period before becoming a regular CPP volunteer. There are no monetary incentives: the main benefits gained by CPP volunteers are respect from their peers and the satisfaction that comes from saving others from disasters.
CPP volunteers are trained in early warning dissemination, evacuation, search and rescue, first aid and relief operations. Basic disaster management and leadership training is also part of their capacity development process. Volunteers also take part in awareness-raising activities in their communities.
From discussions with CPP officials and volunteers and a literature survey, the CPP appears to be facing two evolving challenges. First, thanks to the rapid rise of information and communications technology, today’s young people see their lives and livelihoods quite differently than their predecessors, and their motivations for and attitudes towards volunteerism are correspondingly different. Second, CPP events such as refresher training and awareness-raising events, are held under short-term projects funded for specific activities, and keeping CPP volunteers engaged, motivated and committed between hazardous events is a challenge. This limited engagement has a direct impact on the CPP’s cyclone preparedness and early warning activities.
The importance of engaging CPP volunteers in additional activities has been recognised by some CPP officials, and there have been attempts to engage CPP volunteers in livelihoods and savings activities, albeit not under the CPP banner. The main dilemma here is whether volunteers should be offered financial incentives. As one senior CPP official explained, such benefits do not chime with the vision, philosophy and image of the CPP. Nevertheless, things have changed over the past 40 years in response to changing demands on the ground. A couple of decades back, for example, there was no provision for daily allowances and travel allowances for volunteers to compensate them for attending meetings or training sessions; this norm has now been revised.
Keeping in mind the CPP’s philosophy, and the challenges and dilemmas it faces, we propose a model that capitalises on CPP volunteers’ motivations and strengths to build the resilience of coastal communities in Bangladesh.
A number of resilience frameworks have been proposed. To explain our model, we consider the ‘From Vulnerability to Resilience Framework (V2R Framework)’. The V2R Framework has four components (Figure 1). The CPP is working strongly in the area of ‘Disaster preparedness’ and partly in the area of ‘Governance’. We propose focusing on the remaining two components ? adapting to ‘Future uncertainties’, like climate change and climate variability, and ‘Diversifying and securing livelihoods’. In this way, the resilience of target communities will be strengthened, whilst keeping CPP volunteers within the programme’s governance structure and mandate.
To work in the areas proposed, we draw on an innovative approach called skilled volunteerism. In this approach a person is trained both in disaster management and in a livelihood option. As a result a Skilled Volunteer (also known as a Local Resilience Agent) provides voluntary service during emergencies and disasters. In non-disaster periods, the same individual provides technical/advisory services to their community in return for a small fee. As a result volunteers are involved in year-round engagement, enhance their bonds with the community and improve their own and their community’s resilience. The experience and learning from implementing this approach in Sirajganj district over the last four years gives enough grounds to try it in other parts of the country. The CPP, given its strong government-supported establishment, offers an excellent opportunity to take up this model on the cyclone-prone coast of Bangladesh.
The skilled volunteer model needs to be customised to match the CPP’s current vision, mandates and values. CPP volunteers can get involved in building community resilience if they are trained on livelihoods (e.g. climate-smart agriculture, agro-markets and small enterprise development) and in additional disaster management activities (e.g. risk assessment and climate change adaptation). With enhanced capacity, volunteers can offer further formal and informal training and advice to their communities (Figure 2).
Dr Haseeb Md Irfanullah led the Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Programme of Practical Action in Bangladesh. Sazzad Hossain Miah is a Programme Manager in the same programme.
 A. Habib, Md. Shahidullah and D. Ahmed, The Bangladesh Cyclone Preparedness Program: A Vital Component of the Nations Multi-Hazard Early Warning System, in Institutional Partnerships in Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems, 2012, pp. 2962.
 Amin, M.R., 2012. Motivating volunteers: a case of cyclone preparedness programme volunteers in Bangladesh. http://dspace.bracu.ac.bd/handle/10361/2724.