Bangladesh, a low-lying riverine country, is always prone to floods. Due to its location and nature, every year millions of people have to face the threats of severe floods. Due to strong development, a major part of the country can now avert the risk of such calamity. But there are areas where flood can create serious havoc. Both natural events as well as man-made situations are accelerating the threats of floods in Bangladesh. Hence, it calls for planned steps to save our citizens from despair.
Two rounds of flooding within a month in northeastern Bangladesh’s Sylhet division have left four million people fighting for survival. Heavy rains in Meghalaya and Assam mostly caused the floods in the Sylhet division. The two Indian states are the locations of downwards flow for most rivers flowing into the Sylhet division. Moreover, unplanned embankments appeared as one of the major causes for the two rounds of floods.
Cherrapunji in Meghalaya, once the world’s wettest spot, received 972 mm of rainfall till 8.30 pm June 17. This is the third-highest rainfall in 122 years, according to the India Meteorological Department. Neighboring Mawsynram, the current wettest spot, received 1,003.6 mm, its highest 24-hour rainfall figure. Assam, home to the valley of the river Surma, which flows into Sylhet, has also been receiving heavy rains for three days. Haflong in Assam’s North Cachar Hills, upstream of Sylhet, had also recorded devastating floods recently.
In addition to the already flooded three districtsSylhet, Sunamgonj and Moulavibazar, the districts that may witness flood in the upcoming days are Jamalpur, Bogura, Sherpur, Gaibandha, Sirajganj, Tangail, Manikganj, Pabna, Rajshahi, Kushtia, Faridpur, Rajbari, Shariatpur, Munshiganj, and Chandpur. The Brahmaputra and Jamuna have already been flowing above the danger level and water level of the Padma River system may rise within next couple of days. This year flood may not occur in capital Dhaka but with increasing load of water in the upcoming years, Dhaka will also be affected soon and that will bring extreme chaos to our life and economy.
Although some flooding is normal at the beginning of monsoon season in Bangladeshthe situation is more severe this year as there was a massive and extraordinary pre-monsoon. The country has a long history of destructive flooding. In the 19th century, six major floods were recorded in 1842, 1858, 1871, 1875, 1885 and 1892. Eighteen major floods occurred in the 20th century. Those of 1951, 1987, 1988 and 1998 were catastrophic. More recent floods include 2004 and 2010.
The floods of 1988 and 1998 were the most extreme nationwide floods in independent Bangladesh. Though we have not seen any nationwide flood since then, there were several zonal floods. Not only lives and crops were damaged but also roads, culverts and other infrastructures were severely devastated. During the last one flood, two major floods in the northeastern zone is highly alarming as such flood will keep occurring if measures are not taken.
Bangladesh is a low-lying land and there are many rivers throughout the country. Moreover, heavy monsoon rain is a great part of our climate. All of our rivers are sourced from upstream located in our neighboring countries. Hence, when water flow increases in upstream, the downward flow increases and pressure is felt in our rivers. As the upstream water comes with lots of sand and mud, siltation occurs in our rivers heavily in monsoon. Moreover, with the melting of Himalayan ice, the water level is increasing in our rivers and sea.
Along with the natural causes, there are several man-made causes of these floods too. Experts say that a number of reasons combined to make the situation worse, including the absence of a flood protection embankment in Sunamganj, earth-filling in haor and other water bodies, deforestation in the hills and mining in the upstream Indian areas. Many structures built occupying the water bodies, which traditionally served as reservoirs holding the excess water from floods, are also disrupting the flow of water and preventing it from receding.
Moreover, heavy constructions beside the water sources are blocking the usual way of water flow. Illegal grabbing of rivers, canals, ponds and waterbeds are also limiting the water containment capacity. Unplanned construction of damns, embankments and roads over the haors and other water sources came out as a major cause of the recent floods. For example; the Ashtogram-Itna-Mithamoin road built on damns is obstructing the natural water flow and creating floods.
The dams and embankments were mostly built decades ago and though more of those were required, especially in permanent form, that did not happen much. Moreover, unplanned roads and culverts, especially in rural areas, not only blocked and filled the water ways but also reduced agricultural land to a great extent.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently said that, elevated roads in hoar or watery areas will be built in the future so that, water flow is not obstructed. The LGED minister asked to cut any roads if required to ensure water flow to clear the current flood. We are thankful that, PM Hasina is taking such decision considering the trouble of the fellow countrymen. But some additional steps are required alongside to tackle the flood crisis in the future.
The government must recover canals, waterbeds from illegal grabbers as priority. We need to clear those to increase our water containment capacity at earliest. We also need to increase waterbeds alongside the rivers throughout the country. We need to use the concept of elevated roads or Bailey Bridge to ensure communication at watery areas. We must ensure water flow by using techniques like; dredging. The government should plant trees alongside the rivers heavily to reduce soil erosion too. Moreover, we need to complete the water sharing agreement with our neighbors like India to secure the future of our countrymen.
We need to take several steps immediately to reduce the risks of floods as we will not be able to avoid the severity of this natural calamity in the future. Any carelessness today in this regard will make us suffer to a great extent as fighting this calamity requires very small to very large steps. The real economic impact of floods is still unknown. During the last decade, we have significantly developed as a nation under the valorous leadership of PM Sheikh Hasina and to sustain that progress, we need to minimize the damage from natural calamities like floods.
From upstream, water is flowing freely into our country, monsoon rain is adding significant amount of water and the sea level is rising simultaneously. Hence, it is important to manage water to reduce floods and damages. The sea water will be of no use, but if managed the upstream water and rain water can be used for irrigation. We will need to create several reservoir water basins and that will required well planned strategies. From all considerations, it is almost impossible to avoid heavy water flow inside our country in the upcoming years and hence, water management plans along with the Delta Plan 2100 can only bring good results.
Due to the global climate change, natural calamities will be fiercer in the upcoming days. We are already fighting with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic for more than two years and unfortunately, the next wave of the pandemic is knocking at our door. Additionally, the Russia-Ukraine war is creating strong economic challenges globally. Considering all this, the next few months or even years can be economically critical. Hence, we need timely measures for all challenges and our policy makers must act on that.
We hope, Bangladesh will overcome all the challenges and will keep progressing.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, BangabandhuShishu Kishore Mela