Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Analysis: analytical approach

The theme for our case study is the spatial condition of an urbanizing Bangladesh, a process defined by constantly recurring (natural) disasters. We use the term urbanizing rather than urban as the population of Bangladesh, despite its density (with a population of over 150 million Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world), largely live in rural conditions. In the case of Bangladesh, rural does not refer to traditional western notions of low density housing in a natural setting, but rather to an economy based on agriculture and a typology of dense city-sized villages. Bangladesh is a country with enough critical mass to evolve into a highly urbanized metropolis, but for various reasons it hasn’t. In our research we aim to explore the notion that the urbanizing condition of Bangladesh is related to the recurring disasters that the country faces as well as to the response to these disasters.

Our research methods will focus on bottom up-mapping of the spatial and socio-economical processes of daily life in this urbanizing Bangladesh. We will investigate relations between economic, social, geographical, political, historical and climatological aspects and try to find out why the urbanization of Bangladesh looks the way it does, what potentials it has and where it can go from here.

As specific cases studies we will focus on two regions and two disasters; Chittagong and which got hit by the Gorky cyclone in 1991, and the Barisal division which got hit by the Sidr cyclone in 2007.

Historically Bangladesh has always been a region prone to disasters. Cyclones, tornadoes, floods, landslides and earthquakes are regularly recurring events. With cyclone shelters, wind resistant huts and refined warning systems the country has in time learned to deal with the disasters and recurring disasters has become another factor of daily life. While natural disasters in the region have intensified in the last 50 years, the percentage of people losing their lives to these events has steadily declined. Bangladesh has adopted a flexible coping mechanism based on evacuation, cover and reconstruction. A good result by any standard, but what does the combination of effective defense system specialized in saving lives and increasingly hard-hitting cyclones leave in its wake?

example of 70's cyclone shelter

With a large percentage of the population living with minimal means off what the land offers, the material damage the recurring disasters deal on a household level is profound. While lives are saved livestock and harvests are not. Potentially the state of urbanizing in Bangladesh is directly linked to the inability to sustain livelihoods at a small scale. As people struggle to recover from the disasters, a downward spiral from poor and vulnerable to poorer and even more vulnerable ensues. While the coping mechanism of Bangladesh successfully saves lives, a massive amount of time, money and energy is spent trying to rebuild damaged economical systems.

In our research we would like to understand the factors that are holding Bangladesh from breaking through this stalemate and whether its urban potentials could manifest themselves, or if this is even desired.

The research into the Barisal region and the Sidr aftermath is directly linked to the idea of urbanizing Bangladesh as a coherent, densely populated rural region. Looking to the impact and aftermath of this disaster will give us clues about the hows and whys of the vulnerability of small scale livelihoods and socio-economic networks as well as the peculiarities of this typology. 

The Chittagong case on the other hand will, with its distance in time, give us insights into the long-term effects of Bangladesh disaster management as well as highlight an increasingly pressing issue provided our theory holds water; that of how to deal with disaster management in large cities threatened by recurring natural disasters. A situation in which established Bengali strategies based on adaptability, evacuation, and specially designed refugee shelters will be pushed beyond their limit.

No comments:

Post a Comment