The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimate that almost a third of Bangladesh has been affected and conditions are likely to worsen. Earlier this week, UNICEF said more than 2.4 million people, including around 1.3 million children, have been impacted, with more than half a million – around 550,000 – families displaced from their homes.
The country was far more prepared for flooding than in the past, but that populations in flooded areas might end up in dire need because of a combination of existing localized and national crises. Local organizations had exhausted funds responding to the COVID-19 pandemic so the UN and other international organizations would need to step in.Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently expressed that the flood may linger and instructed the leaders and activists of her party to get ready to tackle the situation. Floods devastate the progress and hope for the millions of Bangladeshi people. Hence, we need to adopt more effective comprehensive planning to get rid of such situation in the upcoming years.
Unfortunately, we start talking about flood only after it happens. But it is a continuous process for our country for several years. Now as the flood has started, we have nothing much to do other than arranging relief materials for the victims. But even after this year’s flood is over, we might not see much good works to tackle floods in the future. Firstly, we need to be proactive rather than reactive in this matter.
Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated country and one of the most vulnerable countries to flood disasters. It also has one of the three most powerful rivers passing though it – Ganges, Meghna and Brahmaputra. About one half of the land area in Bangladesh is at an elevation of less than 8 meters above sea level and most of the country consists of huge flood plain and delta. Snowmelt at the Himalayans during late spring, prolonged heavy monsoon rain, ill managed dams and urbanization of the flood plain both in Bangladesh and upstream countries like India and Nepal make regular floods a harsh reality of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh shares 54 rives and many canals with India creating a 1,116 km riverine border with its greatest neighbor. During the monsoon, India also faces upstream flow from the Himalayans and need to keep it flow downward to Bangladesh to save itself. At different districts of Bangladesh, the water flows in from India during the monsoon. We cannot control the upstream flow. Hence, we need to increase our water containment capacity and for that, there is no way to keep our canals and river beds in the current state.
Only if we talk about the capital Dhaka, there are over 50 canals and lakes. But they are now almost extinct. The two main reasons behind the disappearing canals are the creep of construction and the dumping of massive quantities of garbage, including chemical garbage, from the surrounding neighborhoods.The city dwellers face serious waterlogging during the monsoon due to the poor condition of these canals.
In Dhaka, there are thousands of canals but most of them are dying for the same reason. The respective authority should take immediate measures to recover these canals from illegal encroachment. Moreover, at the connecting points to the rivers, there should be no barrier. If we can ensure free water flow in these canals along with increased water containment capacity, then flood situation will definitely improve. We also should recover the government wetlands throughout the country as those also can help containing the flood water.
We need to take similar steps with the rivers. Our river banks are mostly illegally grabbed. We can find even many large establishments at the banks of our rivers. These actually fastens the river erosion during monsoon and the soil gets weaker. Moreover, residential and non-residential garbage dumping in the rivers also pollute the water and creates human made silt. Dredging business has become very lucrative in. This dredging works are mostly unplanned and also become main cause of river erosion on several occasions.
As the river bed capacity decreased for dumping of silt over the years, dredging can actually help us to build the capacity of containing flood water. But for that, dredging has to be planned. The authority needs to allocate dredging based on higher layer slit marked area and mostly into the areas far from the river banks. Rather than a business, we must use dredging as a mean to contain more flood water. There are many ‘Char’ areas at our river beds created from silt and other deposits in the riverbeds and these sink during the monsoon. People grabs these for different purpose but during heavy waterflow, they are not livable and these actually decreases water containing capacity. The authority should dredge these ‘Char’ areas also. ‘Char’, created in the sea areas should be allowed for living as well as afforestation.
Every year, a huge budget is spent on creating dams at the embankments of different rivers but unfortunately, this has become a great source of corruption. Upstream water flow cannot be contained with weak dams during the monsoon season for which we see many dams getting damaged during floods. While constructing dams, we need to consider the strong upstream tide generating from mostly India.
The river banks must be reclaimed from people completely at least up to 1 km from the edge of the water and then large trees which have deep roots as well as grow fast should be planted immediately and that will come out as a concrete solution to the river erosion. Permanent strong dams should be built at different critical points so that the dams remain intact for at least 20 years. Corruption must be completely eliminated from this sort of constructions for the sake of the people.
Though according to our local saying, Bangladeshi people mainly eat rice and fish that is not true for the majority. We are now third inland fish producer in the world but this production is mostly on commercial basis and focused on import. There is no fish in our ponds or canals today as we have filled those for living. Haors, bils etc are also under risk of encroachment. There is no water flow in our canals, lakes and ponds. Especially the situation becomes graver in the dry seasons. So, the poor or limited income people have to buy fish which is often not possible. Hence, they remain deprived of protein. If we can bring back water flow in these canals, lakes and ponds, then the past legacy of Bangladeshi people may be restored. Moreover, it will also reduce huge irrigation cost that we need to incur in the dry season.
We must emphasize on proper implementation of different water treaties with our neighbor India. From deposit of sediments, not only our rivers but also the rivers of India are losing water containment capacity. So, the water rushes immediately with strong tides towards Bangladesh at the very beginning of the monsoon. Hence, we should suggest them to work on building water containment capacity too.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government has taken a 100-year delta plan in 2018. It is a vivid plan which holds the answer to our flood and waterlogging issues to a great extent. Now the relevant authority should take necessary measures to start implementing that plan. COVID-19 pandemic, cyclone ‘Amphan’ and the flood – all these disasters are hitting us one after another. But we hope, PM Hasina, with her valiant leadership, will be able to lead her government overcome all the odds. We believe, with good intent and timely measure, the situation will be much better from the next year onwards.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency
(MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy
Research Center (DRC)