Prepared by UNCHS (Habitat) Fukuoka Office

1 Introduction

The 1998 flood in Bangladesh has affected 52 Districts, 30 million people and destroyed more than 900,000 houses. The 1998 flood broke all previous records for its duration and intensity of damages. The flood started in July and continued until mid-September 1998. Many areas of the country were covered in water for up to two months, uprooting families, destroying cash crops and property, and seriously affecting the national economy.As in previous cases, national authorities and the international community have strived to provide a rapid response to the emergency needs of the population and are now preparing for the rehabilitation phase.

The Government of Bangladesh and its development partners established Local Consultative Groups on post-flood rehabilitation for 17 selected sectors. UNCHS (Habitat) was identified as the Lead Agency for Shelter. The UNDP Office in Dhaka requested UNCHS (Habitat) to undertake a shelter assessment mission to assess the damage to rural and urban shelter in the flood-affected areas and to propose strategies for shelter rehabilitation based on the findings of the mission. Shelter is defined as housing and basic physical and community infrastructure. It was agreed with the LCG on Urban Development that they would assess the damage to the trunk infrastructure in the affected cities and towns.

The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) hosted the mission and provided invaluable support and professional inputs. The assessment methodology used is based on direct and indirect data collection, detailed surveys and field observations. Questionnaires on shelter damage assessment were sent through LGED to their District Offices for completion by all affected Thanas (sub-districts) and Pourashavas (municipalities). Additional data on the flood occurrence have been obtained from the Ministry of Relief and Disaster Management and detailed surveys on shelter damage assessment have been undertaken for the two affected cities, Dhaka and Rajshahi. Field trips have been undertaken to six different parts of the country (Jamalpur, Sylhet, Sunamgonj, Rajshahi, Nawabgonj and Barisal) to get an impression of the type and nature of damages on shelter and to verify some of the data collected.

The mission has prepared a shelter assessment report which covers the magnitude of the physical damage to shelter in the rural and urban areas affected by the 1998 flood and describe its impact on the affected population. The report identifies the shelter rehabilitation needs and propose a rehabilitation strategy for the immediate, short-term and medium-term needs. Further, the report provides compelling arguments for the international community to assist Bangladesh with its post-flood shelter rehabilitation.

It should be appreciated that the mission had a short lead time and a very limited period to undertake its tasks, therefore its findings are of a broad, indicative nature and should serve as a rough guide rather than detailed prescriptions for programming.

2 Main Findings and Conclusions

The estimated 916,660 totally damaged houses, mostly katcha, must be understood as including those that were completely destroyed and all building materials lost. They also include the larger proportion of houses that had to be abandoned or relocated at certain points in time and that later were rebuilt using to a large extent the same materials.

Partially damaged houses, estimated at 1,300,000, refer to those that suffered a loss of assets only or that created additional household expenditure to finance minor repairs. Affected families can thus be classified in three broad categories:

Basic infrastructure services in low-income urban areas and rural settlements are limited to drinking water supply, mostly through tube wells. Sanitation consists mainly of on-site human-waste disposal facilities. Drainage, appropriate roads and other infrastructures are almost absent in most settlements. In this context, there was little to be damaged by the flood and the affected settlements lacked, and still lack, a minimum level of infrastructure services.

Over 300,000 tube-wells (834,422 in operation) and 176 shallow wells for drinking water supply were affected. The communities restored most wells to normal operation as soon as the waters receded.

Pit latrines were flooded and collapsed in many cases. Few have been repaired waiting for better conditions to dug new pits. Meanwhile, inadequate excreta disposal coupled to continued water logging is taking a toll in the health conditions of the affected communities.

Drainage, almost non-existing in many low-income urban areas, was clogged. Cleaning works have not yet started in earnest. Rehabilitation of this type of structures, together with road and small embankments has to be done as part of integrated packages of community infrastructure improvement.

2.1 Socio-economic Impact

The damages caused by the floods have affected most the lower-income sectors of the population, both rural and urban. Typical incomes for these families range from Thaka 50-200 per day. Income earners work mostly as agricultural labourers, fishermen, and unskilled labourers. Most families live at the subsistence level with no saving capacity or the possibility to accumulate resources for further social and economic development.

Against this general background, the flood had a devastating effect on large sectors of the population by temporarily depriving them of their main source of income in the agricultural sector and/or by forcing them to sell their assets or take loans to rebuild their houses. Losses have been compounded in cases where they had to relocate due to the loss of land by cutting them off from their traditional sources of income. Many families have been pushed below the subsistence level, being forced to live out of the charity or solidarity of relatives and neighbours. In other cases, they have migrated to towns and cities swelling the large contingent of marginal urban dwellers.

Families that were able to stay have remained in a very precarious situation. Having sold their few assets or taken loans to cover the cost of rebuilding their houses, they are now in an extremely vulnerable situation to reductions in their income that could make them become the next wave of families to be washed out of the rural subsistence economy.

The flood has exacerbated the already precarious conditions in which low-income families live in slums, squatter areas and other sub-standard urban settlements. It is estimated that close to 30% of the urban population live in this type of settlements with family incomes below the poverty line (Tk 3,500 for absolute poverty, and Tk 2,500 for hard core poverty). This 30% of the urban population is the sector that has been most affected by the floods.

2.2 Shelter capital losses

An estimation of the capital losses suffered by the affected communities can be calculated by adding the total cost of repairs incurred per household to the reposition cost (building a new house) of those houses totally destroyed (to a standard equivalent to the existing before the floods).

Given the similar typology of housing construction in rural and low-income urban settlements, the same average costs have been assumed for both areas. Repair cost, including a low-cost valorization of self-help labour, is in average US$ 20 per dwelling. The value of a new katcha house with a surface area of 25 to 36 m2 is in average US$ 180.

It has also been assumed that the cost of repair for houses that suffered minor damages (1,300,000 units) was small enough not to affect family economies and therefore is not quantified. However, if quantified, it would add considerably to the total capital loss.

The following "losses" are obtained applying the above unit costs to the total number of damaged houses only, excluding the above mentioned damages:

641,662 units with significant partial damages: US$ 12,833,240
91,666 units totally destroyed: US$ 16,499,880
183,332 units to be relocated: US$ 24,749,820
Total US$ 54,082,940

Total capital losses of fully or heavily damaged houses only might not seem too high in absolute terms but they are enormous in the context of low-income families with average monthly incomes below US$ 65. The magnitude of the losses is also indicative of the sub-standard nature, and therefore low value, of the affected houses. Please also note that this does not include the capital loss of community infrastructure.

3 Rehabilitation Needs

It is not possible to consider effective rehabilitation programmes if these are not conceived as integrated packages to rebuild communities, their coping mechanisms and their physical environment. To do this, sustainable support delivery mechanism rather than one-shot experiences have to be put in place. The development of local capacities for rehabilitation and preparedness, the first line of response, should be promoted. Institutional arrangements should look beyond contingent delivery needs and have a broader vision for the strengthening of governance in the country.

Physical shelter rehabilitation needs include:

  • 641,660 families to be provided with cash assistance to cover rehabilitation costs and promote income generation.
  • 91,670 families to be assisted in the construction of new housing applying affordable technologies as well as preparedness measures, including support for income generation. In low-income urban areas, shelter construction shall be accompanied by integrated neighbourhood improvement measures.
  • 183,330 families to be assisted in the construction of new housing and basic services in secure locations including support for income generation and integration in their new environment.

Integrated shelter and community rehabilitation packages should consider:

  • Direct support to housing repair or construction;
  • Technical support on affordable housing construction and skills development;
  • Rehabilitation of neighbourhood basic services, when required;
  • Strengthening community organizations and supporting integration of relocated families;
  • Support to income generation activities;
  • Awareness raising and education on disaster preparedness/mitigation. Formulation of flood preparedness action plans at the community level;
  • Strengthening of institutional delivery mechanisms.

Appropriate shelter and settlements rehabilitation touches on wider issues that also need to be tackled to reduce vulnerability and improve preparedness. A key element in this regard is the need for improving the management of settlements development and the use of resources to reduce risks. As the recent flood has shown, there is an urgent need for the development of realistic disaster management strategies that can guide the actions of all sectors intervening in settlements management, disaster preparedness and mitigation.

3.1 Scope of rehabilitation needs

Rehabilitation costs per household unit will tend to be higher than the value of the actual losses since they will incorporate additional works and quality standard that ensure to the affected families adequate living conditions, access to services, and protection/preparedness against future floods.

- Costs based on "formal" housing standards

The cost of an "engineered" semi-permanent housing structure of just 18 m2 is estimated to be about US$730. The "rehabilitation" of all 916,660 damaged houses to this standard, without considering the cost of any ancillary infrastructure and services, will be approximately US$ 669,161,800. As mentioned, this does not yet include any water or sanitation facilities.

Therefore, these rehabilitation costs are unaffordable to the country and rural and urban poor communities in particular. While recognizing the need to attend the rehabilitation needs of the population, this can be done in an appropriate and affordable manner, which will reduce vulnerability of the structures to future disasters. The costs presented below respond to these criteria and are recommended for application in rehabilitation activities.

- Estimated rehabilitation unit costs applying appropriate and affordable standards

The estimated cost of attending the needs of all 916,660 affected households with shelter rehabilitation (housing and basic services), disaster preparedness and mitigation are:

Cost (US$)


Number of households




Grants &
Income G.

& Protection
Rural households









New houses














Total rural:






Urban households4









New houses














Total urban:












Note: Delivery costs are 15% to 20% of total investment. They are not included in the above calculation.

As seen above, the cost of rehabilitation applying affordable standards and incorporating key elements of flood mitigation, preparedness, as well as awareness raising activities is substantially lower than the cost of rehabilitation applying formal practices. However, it is still unlikely that the reduced costs can be covered by the probable resources to be mobilized in the short-term. Therefore, it is necessary to set priorities for attending to the immediate rehabilitation needs of the population in an incremental manner. Criteria for this purpose, and proposed strategies attending to such needs are given in the following sections of the report.

4 Shelter Rehabilitation Strategy

Time and resource limitations have not made it possible to propose a specific or detailed action plan for post-flood Shelter Sector initiatives. Thus, to follow is a framework for future detailed planning. It endorses the need for support to the sector, proposes a strategic approach, looks at programming options and outlines further steps which would result in a future action plan for the shelter sector.

Clearly the scale of general shelter need exacerbated by frequent flooding, the extremes of the 1998 flood and the prospect of future floods offer scope for a wide range of assistance to the sector. When combined with an increasing population and rural-to-urban migration of especially the economically most vulnerable segments of the population, the shelter challenge appears to be both extreme and limitless.

Despite this challenge, there is scope for a strategic approach which while it does not offer a comprehensive solution to the broader shelter issues, does provide and incremental approach to lessening the extremes. In the general context flood-based emergencies and the aftermath of the 1998 flood, the strategy would be to support community based rehabilitation measures designed to:

  • Accelerate the rehabilitation of shelter, basic services and economic assets destroyed and damaged by the floods focusing on the most vulnerable and poorest people.
  • Reduce the vulnerability of shelter and community facilities against future flooding.
  • Optimize the delivery of shelter rehabilitation programmes strengthening the capacity of local institutions.

4.1 Objectives

The objective of the strategy will be to assist in the rehabilitation of shelter in the rural and urban areas of Bangladesh affected by the 1998 floods, focussing on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable groups and improving disaster preparedness at the community level. The following groups have been identified as possible targets for rehabilitation assistance:

  • Those who have already reconstructed houses, but have exhausted savings or acquired debt in doing so; thus jeopardized future earning capacity;
  • Those unable to rebuild their totally destroyed houses;
  • Those displaced by the floods who have not yet resettled, and do not have sufficient access to resources to do so in the foreseeable future;
  • Those who have reoccupied their previous and flood-damaged dwellings.

The proposed shelter rehabilitation strategy addresses the above objectives and includes three phases, an immediate approach which should be acted upon immediately, a short-term approach focussing on the core of the shelter rehabilitation needs for a period on one to two years and a medium-term strategy of about five years with its major focus on the reduction of shelter and settlements vulnerability to natural disasters.

4.2 Incremental response

The limited resources available for shelter rehabilitation and the need to provide an urgent response to vulnerable families make it necessary to phase activities over time. Three Phases are suggested:

  • Phase I (Immediate): Focusing on the attention to the immediate shelter needs of the most affected sectors of the population. These activities will include a measure of preparedness for future floods, but will mainly focus on shelter delivery mechanisms. It is envisaged that activities under Phase I will be funded by reallocating resources from on-going projects or by attaching shelter rehabilitation components to existing projects or programmes about to be approved.
  • Phase II (Short-term): Covering the shelter rehabilitation needs of a larger sector of the population. Phase II will also set up more efficient mechanisms for the delivery of shelter rehabilitation support and ensure its sustainable operation. Phase II will also include more structural flood preparedness, mitigation and awareness raising activities. The proposed mechanism is a "Funding Window" facility.
  • Phase III (Medium-term): While continuing the provision of support to shelter rehabilitation programmes, Phase III will give more emphasis to making operational at the community and local levels the main elements of the National Disaster Management Plan. Emphasis will be given to aspects of: capacity building; community-based flood disaster management and early warning systems.

5 Phase One: Immediate Action

Specific disaster mitigation activities could be appended to a number of existing urban and rural projects currently funded in the human settlements sector. The Government of Bangladesh has very few explicit housing or shelter projects for the urban and rural poor, despite its commendable housing policy. Furthermore, it is important that the identified projects have the characteristics which make it possible to incorporate shelter rehabilitation components. The nature, scope and scale of the projects should be conducive to the integration of shelter rehabilitation activities without disorienting the existing project.

The programme priorities which should be incorporated in the selected projects need to focus on the shelter rehabilitation needs of the poorest and most vulnerable groups in the urban and rural areas most affected by the 1998 floods. Three categories of projects can be identified:

5.1 Rural shelter rehabilitation projects

Projects identified under this category should already have a shelter delivery component which could be expanded to include shelter rehabilitation. The term shelter includes housing and water & sanitation facilities affected by the floods or required for a minimum level of disaster preparedness. Rehabilitation should go beyond just reconstructing whatever shelter there was before the floods, but also improve the flood resistance or disaster preparedness of the settlements in physical and socio-economic terms. The rehabilitation should lead to an improved disaster response mechanism at the community level.


The Rural Village Development Programme of the Government of Bangladesh, implemented by LGED, could accommodate a rural shelter rehabilitation component,

Estimated cost: US$ 1.7 mln.
Status: Project approved 27/5/97,
no rehabilitation component at present

Invite recognized NGOs working in the human settlements sector to forward proposals for shelter rehabilitation in the affected rural areas,

Estimated costs: US$ 4.2 mln
Status: A number of NGOs already approached funding agencies with proposals, coordination is required.

5.2 Urban Shelter Rehabilitation Projects

Community infrastructure and services form part of the shelter strategy which needs to be addressed in urban areas. The high population density and often extreme forms of poverty need specific approaches for shelter rehabilitation in urban areas. Access to natural resources as building materials pose another challenge in the urban context. LGED is implementing a number of urban projects which would qualify for expansion with an urban shelter rehabilitation component. Most promising would be the project on Local Partnerships for Urban Poverty Alleviation which is expected to be approved for implementation soon. This project has a fund for physical upgrading at the community level channelled through local governments and a fund for livelihood improvements channeled through NGOs. A fund for housing loans would be a complementary component to this package. Donor interest for this housing loan component is sought.


The UNDP-funded Local Partnership for Urban Poverty Alleviation Project, implemented through LGED by 3 cities and 7 pourashavas could accommodate a shelter rehabilitation component,

Estimated costs: US$ 1.8 mln.
Status: Project approval expected early November 1998,
Basic services component included, housing component to be added.

5.3 Shelter rehabilitation in Dhaka

The Dhaka Metropolitan Area is in a class of its own. The enormous number of people affected by the floods who have lost their homes and have not yet been resettled pose a serious problem for the city authorities. The overwhelming majority of these people are living in extreme poverty. While NGOs provide assistance to the communities affected by the flood through the limited means they have, the Government has limited ongoing projects in the field of shelter upgrading or rehabilitation in Dhaka. Therefore, it will be difficult to find a suitable project to attach to a post-flood shelter rehabilitation component.


Invite recognized NGOs working in the human settlements sector to forward proposals for shelter rehabilitation in Dhaka,

Estimated costs: US$ 1.2 mln
Status: A number of NGOs already approached funding agencies with
proposals, coordination is required.

6 Phase Two: A Funding Window Facility

For the short term (i.e., for the next two to three years), it is recommended that a flood disaster management funding pool be created for delivery through a "Funding Window" facility. A number of factors suggest that such a facility could be an effective means of supporting flood disaster management. These factors include the need for:

  • Provision of an efficient means of amalgamating and distributing donor support.
  • Establishment of an efficient and effective means of reaching the targeted urban and rural communities, and of distributing, utilizing, and accounting for the use of donors resources.
  • Reinforcement and extension of existing urban and rural mitigation and preparedness efforts.
  • Provision of support to the existing complex of both public and NGO agencies working on flood disaster management programs and projects, and the fostering of partnerships between such agencies built on their complementary strengths.

The funding window would be a responsive mechanism. It would be implemented through an existing public or private agency (or agencies) contracted to manage the disbursement of funds to implementing agencies according to a set of agreed project specifications. In being responsive, the window would receive proposals from government and NGO bodies for disaster prevention and mitigation projects, or parts of projects, and react and disburse funds in a rapid but well- organized and managed fashion.
The table below estimates the three year cost of creating and operating the window at just over $ 15.2 million, as follows:



1. Planning


2. Mobilization


3. Initial Capitalization


4. Monitoring, Audit and Evaluation




During the mission there has been limited interaction with the donor community to sound out their interest and willingness to support shelter rehabilitation. This report should serve as a tool to raise donor attention and support.

7 Phase Three: Shelter Rehabilitation and Disaster Preparedness

Phase III is proposed to have a more developmental character, while it still addresses shelter rehabilitation needs and is aimed at organizing communities to reduce their vulnerability to floods. This involves increasing the capacity of communities and recognized agencies with mandates to implement programmes in disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness. The goal of a disaster preparedness programme is the provide communities and the implementing agencies with the capacity to effectively and efficiently carry out activities that will lead to flood damage reduction. The main elements are:

- Capacity building
- Community awareness
- Community-based mitigation and preparedness
- Shelter rehabilitation
- Community flood action plan
- Early warning systems

The Shelter Rehabilitation and Disaster Preparedness Programme is proposed to be implemented over a period of 5 years and reach out incrementally to about 4,550 villages, most affected by the 1998 floods.

An estimated budget for such a programme would be as follows:



1. Institutional Capacity Building


2. Community-based Flood Disaster Management
- Community Awareness


- Community Flood Action Planning


- Technical innovations


3. Early Warning Systems


4. Planning, Management, Monitoring and Evaluation



US$ 22,000,000

The Third Phase proposal could also be implemented partially through the "Funding Window" facility as proposed for the Second Phase approach.