Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

"As a student of social work discipline, I conceive the core values of social work to work for disadvantaged individuals, groups, and communities. The core values of my social work profession allow me to pursue my interests in humanitarian disasters, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation."

Rabiul Islam

Voices from the Field: Rabiul Islam from Bangladesh

HI² -- You have an extensive background in humanitarian based social work. Tell us about your experiences teaching at Rajshahi University in Bangladesh and at the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University in Australia. What material did you focus on? How did these positions allow you to pursue your interests in social work, humanitarian disasters, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation?

As an academic staff member in the Department of Social Work at Rajshahi University, I have been teaching three courses titled ‘Social Dynamics and Human Culture’, ‘Disaster Management and Rehabilitation’, and ‘Environmental Management’ at the graduate and post-graduate levels. I have also been teaching a course entitled ‘Global Environmental Politics’ as a guest Lecturer in the Department of International Relations.

The major focuses of my teaching at Rajshahi University are on issues surrounding society, culture, community, social institutions, social systems, and climate change. Specifically, topics I discuss include climate extreme events, disaster management cycles, hazard assessment, primary healthcare and disasters, disaster resilience, community-based disaster risk reduction, early warning systems, social work intervention in disaster management, and global initiatives for disaster resilience. Furthermore, I also spend time examining issues surrounding the environment, such as crises management, justice, global environmental governance, global institutes for environmental protection, environmental compliance and enforcement, and green politics.

During my time teaching and tutoring at the Institute of Early Childhood and in the Department of Geography and Planning at Macquarie University, I focused on manmade and natural disasters and public health issues. Specifically, topics I focused on included conflict and health, disaster and communicable diseases, health problems of children and adolescents, environmental degradation and mental health, and consequences of environmental crises in the global north and south. Furthermore, I also studied environmental uncertainty, reducing disaster vulnerability and increasing community resilience, indigenous knowledge and DRR, climate change, and ecological footprints.

Social Work is a profession-based discipline that helps disadvantaged individuals, groups, and communities in such ways so that they can help themselves to face their crises. Human society, their culture, social systems, values, social problems, community resource mobilization and planning, human welfare, rights, and security, gender equity, etc. are the main concerns of the social work profession.

As a student of social work discipline, I conceive the core values of social work to work for disadvantaged individuals, groups, and communities. The core values of my social work profession allow me to pursue my interests in humanitarian disasters, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation. In addition to my social work degree I have also completed my Masters in disaster management from the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand, which further motivated me to work in the humanitarian field.

HI² -- Tell us about the project you are running on disaster risk reduction and education. What has your research shown about the relationship between DRR and education?

Currently I have been working on a research project with my graduate student, which aims to identify the existing disaster risk reduction (DRR) education programs of government and NGOs for preparedness and mitigation for cyclone disaster. The purpose of this project is to explore the processes of providing DRR education to disaster affected coastal communities, and to reveal how the coastal communities practice DRR knowledge to face disaster risks. The partial (ongoing research project) findings show that there are a good number of government and NGOs’ programs relating to disaster risk reduction (e.g. government policies, plans, risk assessment, risk and vulnerability mapping, public awareness, disaster drill, formal education, etc.) available at the community level in Bangladesh. Government and NGOs providing DRR education to the disaster affected coastal communities through various processes such as group meetings, workshop, school teaching, media, mosque, local government, mobile phone, etc. The coastal communities practice DRR knowledge in various ways to face disaster risks, for example, they participate in water purification, storing dry food during disasters, storing safe drinking water, moving to safer places before disasters, saving necessary documents, rainwater harvesting, fisheries protection, mangrove forestation, etc.

The study argues that disaster affected people of coastal Bangladesh receive DRR knowledge mostly from the NGOs and informal sources. These informal sources should be given a formal shape and government initiatives should be strengthened.      

HI² -- Tell us about your project examining the contribution of FBOs to disaster risk reduction in the Bangladesh coast. How are FBOs utilized in the humanitarian context?

Faith-based organizations (FBOs – mosques, churches, and temples) play a vital role in disaster risk reduction - DRR (e.g. preparedness for and response to a disaster) worldwide. This study considers the mosque as an important FBO of coastal Bangladesh.

This study examines the strong and poor performances of mosques in DRR; and identifies opportunities to strengthen their capacity to contribute effectively to DRR in the Bangladesh coast. Findings show that in a country, typically inhabited by Muslims like Bangladesh, the mosque - as an important FBO, plays a crucial role before (broadcast cyclone warning signal), during (providing shelter in the mosque building) and after cyclones (organizing special prayer for comfort and community meeting for taking further recovery initiatives). As a Muslim inhabited (about 90% of total population) country, Bangladesh has about 350,000 mosques which have great influence on the Islamic devotee. The significant contribution of mosques and other FBOs (e.g. temple and church) has also been found in Pakistan, Indonesia, India and USA to recover from a disaster. However, due to the poor infrastructure and logistic support of mosques, and lack of manpower, they cannot provide required support to the affected people. This study argues that governments, NGOs, and international organizations should work together to strengthen the capacity of mosques to contribute effectively to disaster risk reduction in the coastal areas of Bangladesh.