By Aminul Hoque and Young Jo Lee, IFRC
The excited chatter from the waiting crowd quiets down the moment the brightly-dressed performers take the stage. The subject of the play is nothing poetic or Shakespearian, but the audience is eager, understanding the gravity of the messages to be conveyed in the performance. The play will be about preparing for floods and landslides.
Due to its geographical location, Bangladesh is prone to natural disasters, which are increasing in intensity and frequency because of climate change. Each year the country’s coastal regions are slammed by floods, cyclones, and tidal surges. In recent weeks, incessant rains in northern Bangladesh have affected hundreds of thousands of people, inundating communities, flooding homes and stranding villagers.
The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), is using theatre performances to supplement a broader project to reduce risks and impact and build resilience in disaster-prone communities.
“Theatre, song and drama are a big part of the culture here,” said Azmat Ulla, Head of Country Office for the IFRC in Bangladesh. “The Red Cross is using theatre as a way to entertain, but also communicate and disseminate crucial information that can potentially mitigate disaster risks.”
The plays are being performed in the districts of Sirajganj and Pabna and normally draw an audience of at least 300 people.
“The plays target a diverse group of people and are particularly useful for community members who will then play a key role in their communities, be it sharing information about constructing safer shelters or the importance of handwashing to prevent water-borne diseases in the aftermath of natural disasters,” said Akbar Ali, Assistant Project Manager of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society’s disaster risk reduction project.
“I had no idea that a drama could be used to share such practical information,” said Hasina Khatun from the Korkola community, who attended a Red Cross play in Pabna. “Theatre performances have always been used to entertain us, but now these dramas are building our knowledge of what we can do during a flood.”
The plays have covered disaster preparedness topics such as raising the platforms of homes to prevent flooding, planting trees to stop soil erosion and identifying early warning flood signals.
Audience surveys indicate that 70% of attendees found the disaster-preparedness themes to be the most interesting aspect of the dramas. The vast majority also expressed that the knowledge they gained from the plays makes them better prepared for future floods and more resilient to their impacts.