After a talk by Nabil Ahmed on Environmental Emergency and Political-Natural Assemblages, I was struck by the impressive structures developed as cyclone shelters in Bangladesh. The fact of being a very low and flat land together with having the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghn Rivers delta increase the threat of flooding. Catastrophes have been happening every now and then. The most severe of the deadly storms occurred in November 1970 (Bhola Cyclone), taking up to 500,000 lives.
The triangular shape of the whole Bay of Bengal funnels tropical storms towards the shoreline (around 64 knots, 74 miles/hour). And this same triangular shape is the one that some cyclone shelters need to acquire in order to face strong winds coming from the coast with their pointed convex façade. They consist of tough, but aerodynamic structures at the same time.
The cost of building one windbreaker in Bangladesh rounds £45,000 [Oxfam]. The shelter is usually built on concrete pillars (letting waves go through underneath in case of tidal surges), windows have no glass and are covered with bars and metal shutters, stairs are located at the back of the building (the concave side in triangular constructions) with railings to help people hold or climb. Upstairs, there is a room for men and another one for women and children.
When not used as emergency shelters, these spaces provide public space for community centres, schools, marriage ceremonies, vaccination hospitals, or informal trials for local issues. However, beyond these specific functions, wind shelters may also act as powerful weapons of governing a territory on a broader level, either if built by international humanitarian funds or estate authorities. Along the lines with Alex de Waal’s concept of Philanthropic Imperialism, emergencies are the opportunity for the extension of political power and coercive administration, albeit with the greater good as the goal. [Whose Emergency Is It Anyway? Dreams, Tragedies and Traumas in the Humanitarian Encounter]
[1>Cyclone Shelter in Noakhali_Bangaldesh via fredhoogervorst] [2> by IFRC] [3-5> Cyclone shelters in Bangladesh_interiors via archnet] [6> Cyclones Tracking over Bangladesh during the 20th century via islandnet]