"An Act of Allah”: Religious Explanations for Floods in Bangladesh as Survival Strategy

March 2000 (VOL. 18, NO. 1)

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In countries of the so-called Third World, disaster prevention, preparedness, and relief do not have the expected outcome. Even if people are informed and warned about the arrival of a flood, cyclone, or earthquake, they hesitate to take precautions or leave the area. In some cases, they have to be forced to take refuge in the shelters built for this purpose. They seem to be helpless victims accepting their fate. This is especially the case in Bangladesh, a country which is frequently affected by floods, tornadoes, and cyclones. The affected people, mostly Muslim, regard these hazards as an act of Allah. Through the events He is showing His will and power against which they cannot and should not do anything. In the view of aid agencies, this perception and explanation hampers both external as well as indigenous efforts to survive disasters. However, the findings of my research on local perception and strategies to cope with floods reveal this conception to be a healthy reaction, self-help strategy to overcome crises as quickly as possible and return to daily life. As Allah has given the floods, He will also give believers the strength to survive them. The religious explanation prevents those affected literally wasting time and energy asking why disasters happen to them and not to others.