For residents of the three largest cities in Bangladesh – the capital Dhaka, the port city of Chittagong and the northeastern city of Sylhet – the potential impact of an earthquake is terrifying: nothing short of catastrophic.

As Bangladesh continues to progress, the challenges of building earthquake resilient cities grow ever harder. The continuous influx of people from rural areas, unplanned urbanisation and limitations on basic service delivery linked to increasing urban demands, are just some of the immense challenges facing the nation’s growing urban centres.

Recognising the vulnerability of cities, the potential loss of life, and the enormous setbacks a major earthquake would have for hard-fought development gains, the UN and EU have been working with the Government of Bangladesh and city municipalities to prepare for potential earthquakes through the development of earthquake mapping. For the first time in Bangladesh, this enables simulations that accurately identify vulnerable areas.

Building the capacity of first responders is essential. 12 agencies operating within the three cities received extensive training and support. In addition, search and rescue, including fire fighting equipment was been provided to the fire service and civil defence.

Training is also planned for public and private sector stakeholders, highlighting best practices in building construction and demonstrating retrofitting techniques for example in schools and hospitals, to prepare for and reduce the impact of future earthquakes. Tapping social capital is fundamental in responding to large-scale urban disasters. An urban network of 60,000 volunteers has been established and trained on search and rescue and first aid. Awareness building has taken place to empower communities to understand and as far as possible manage the risks and potential impacts they face in case a major earthquake takes place.