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Addressing Bangladesh Urban Resilience and Disaster Risk Management

Designing an Urban Resilience Unit for research on infrastructure resilience in Bangladesh


To manage building structure disasters and climate change in Dhaka, Bangladesh.


We partnered with the Capital Development Authority of the Government of Bangladesh, RAJUK, to create an Urban Resilience Unit to address disaster risk management. We increased building safety public awareness and lead a two-month training session for RAJUK staff. The training covered 10 topics and 29 models.


Our urban resilience and disaster risk management efforts led the Urban Resilience Unit to improve the construction of new buildings using an electronic construction permit system with the plans to retrofit 3,000 existing buildings in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

What is an Urban Resilience Unit and why is it important for Bangladesh?

The creation of an Urban Resilience Unit (URU) is a bold and timely initiative for rapidly expanding the urban center of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city. Bangladesh is one of the world’s most climate and earthquake vulnerable countries, and it faces significant risks of infrastructure failure. The lack of seismic risk analysis and emergency response management and the unavailability of technical expertise in vulnerability assessment and land-use planning leaves Dhaka unprotected from natural catastrophes. Other contributing factors to this problem include the city’s lengthy and unsettling construction permitting system that have contributed to poor infrastructures and low levels of awareness on disaster risk mitigation.

Infrastructure challenges and disaster risk in Dhaka

Currently, Dhaka faces several challenges related to the city’s building structure and safety. Because most builds don’t follow the Bangladesh National Building Code and the construction guideline, those working and living in these structures face life-threatening risk from potential earthquakes and fires. According to the 2009 report under the CDMP, if an earthquake occurs in Dhaka, more than 250,000 people may die. Additionally, 270,604 buildings will be damaged with 88% of these buildings destroyed, generating 72 million tons of debris. The cost of damages alone could exceed 15 billion US dollars. The city has not identified and retrofitted these vulnerable buildings and structures, and there is a lack of awareness of such disasters and the necessity of preparedness among the general public, professionals, technicians, policy makers, and government officials.

Challenges from Bangladesh’s Capital Development Authority

Dhaka faces financial and education challenges to overcome building vulnerability. The Capital Development Authority of the Government of Bangladesh, better known as Rajhani Unnayan Kartripakkha or RAJUK, is responsible for Dhaka’s urban development. There is not enough research capability and laboratory testing for RAJUK staff to study the conditions of buildings in Dhaka and properly monitor disaster risk. The current manual construction permitting system is inefficient and makes it impossible for RAJUK to monitor the construction of the buildings in an effective way. RAJUK staff also lack experience and knowledge in the fields of earthquake engineering, construction permitting reform and implementation, BNBC enforcement, research, and testing.

To overcome these challenges, a dedicated team is needed of highly qualified technical engineers and relevant experts, who will lead, manage, and perform the following functions for RAJUK and the government of Bangladesh.

  • Risk assessment for urban resiliency
  • Structures design for resiliency
  • Disaster risk management for resiliency
  • Risk communication, sustainability and program support for resiliency

RTI partnering with RAJUK to create Urban Resilience Unit

To manage the required resources and infrastructure, RAJUK and the Government of Bangladesh sought the help of RTI, as their USA-led consortium under the World Bank funded by the Urban Resilience Project’s Consulting Service Package S-06. Our team prepared the organizational structure, manpower requirements, and long-term sustainability plan of the Urban Resilience Unit.

The Bangladesh disaster risk management and urban resilience project sought to support the United Resilience Unit by developing technical disaster risk management and resilience capacity, responding to emergency situations, and reinforcing the approval system for building, design, construction permits and use of materials. The project’s three main objective were:

  • Conducting an institutional design and organizational study
  • Designing and implementing a community outreach campaign
  • Training and capacity building of URU staff and monitoring and evaluating

Increasing public awareness and leading urban resilience training in Bangladesh

In order to achieve these goals, our team constructed a guideline, including a United Resilience Unit organizational structure, vision, mission, goals, manpower requirements, and job descriptions. The direct impact resulted in the government of Bangladesh having the institutional framework to establish a center of excellence. The center is dedicated to managing the disaster and climate change risk in Bangladesh to improve Dhaka. The establishment of the center has the potential to improve resilience of 22 million lives, reduce potential fatality risks of 250,000 people, and save over $15 billion in business losses.

Additionally, our team worked to include public awareness by designing a disaster imagination-themed community outreach campaign. It implemented disaster awareness and communication activities targeting policy makers and Bangladesh government officials, professionals, technicians, and students. Some specifics of the public awareness initiatives include a training that covered 29 models on 10 topics over two months. Between 25 and 50 Bangladesh government officials participated in the training. The 10 urban resilience topics were:

  1. Project and Process Management, Program Development Process, Managerial Skills
  2. Urban Resilience and Sustainable Development
  3. Professional Engineering Ethics in Civil and Construction Engineering
  4. Building Code Enforcement and Electronic Permitting System
  5. QA and QC of the Site Construction: Observation, Reporting, and Approval Processes
  6. Flood and Seismic Hazard and Risk Assessment
  7. Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment and fundamentals of Disaster Risk Management
  8. Bangladesh Nation Building Code Implementation
  9. Micro Zonation studies: Risk Sensitive Land Use Planning & Geographical Information System
  10. Seismic Retrofitting and Rehabilitation of the Existing Structures and Lifelines

Constructing resilient buildings in Bangladesh with electronic construction permits

Our work better equipped the Urban Resilience Unit to identify the current vulnerable buildings in Dhaka and take the appropriate action. The Urban Resilience Unit will work towards improve the construction of new buildings using the electronic construction permit system. This initiative will result in 80% compliances with the Bangladesh national building code for new buildings within five years. Once the Urban Resilience Unit is fully operational, it will retrofit 3,000 buildings. The unit will also have a positive effect on the environment and will combat climate change.

This project has laid out the foundation of improving urban resilience in Dhaka and continued efforts from multiple stakeholders would now be absolutely vital for the operationalization and sustainability of the city's mission. – Rafi Alam

With continued support from the government, the development organizations, and academia, the Urban Resilience Unit has the potential of becoming a leading research-based climate and disaster risk management institute in South Asia.