Rainwater supposed to recede in 15 mins, not cleared in 15 hrs

Vehicles move through waist-deep water in the New Market area, Dhaka on 22 September 23023 a day after Dhaka recorded 122 millimeters of rain from 6:00pm on 21 September 2023 to 12:00am on 22 September.
Dipu Malakar

Seeing the severity of the waterlogging in the city in 2017, the local government minister at the time Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said, “I promise you that there will be no waterlogging in the city next year.”

Six years have passed since the announcement of the that local government minister. In the meantime, Tajul Islam has become the local government minister and the main responsibility of resolving waterlogging in the city has been handed over to the two city corporations of Dhaka from WASA (Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority).

The two city corporations have spent billions of taka to dig canals and construct sewers. However, the residents of the capital are yet to be free of the sufferings caused by waterlogging.

Despite that, the two city mayors have claimed success in solving the waterlogging problem in the city. While addressing a programme in Wari of the capital on 12 February, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor said, “Water will be drained within 15 minutes even in the case of heavy rains.”

In another programme in the capital’s Bangshal area on 14 June, the DSCC mayor claimed, “As a result of the timely initiatives, waterlogging in the areas under the DSCC has come down to 10 per cent." The residents of Bangshal, the place where the mayor claimed this, are the worst victims of waterlogging for the last three years.

Waterlogging in Bangshal caused by the rain on Thursday was not completely cleared even on Friday evening. One side of the road was still under water in Bangshal. Not only there, but water on the North South Road in Old Dhaka, Kazi Alauddin Road, Aga Sadek Road and the road in front of the Tikatuli Park were still submerged under water even after 15 hours. Same was the scenario in several residential halls of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and the Dhaka University (DU).

The city corporation started the work to remove water with sucker machines in the New Market area on Friday evening. However, the traders were unable to open their shops due to waterlogging in the area on Friday, the day of the week with most sales.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Dewan Aminul Islam, president of Dhaka New Market Traders Association, “Yes there can be waterlogging. But how could it remain for 12 to 14 hours? People responsible for this should be punished.”

Responsibility shifted, still no improvement

The capital recorded some 122 mm of rain from Thursday evening to midnight. The Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) said, “It was the highest amount of rainfall recorded this season. However, such rain is very common. For instance, Dhaka recorded 255 mm rains on 25 October last year.”

The heavy rain on Saturday lasted six hours without any pause causing severe waterlogging in the city. A number of roads in the city were submerged for hours. Most of the vehicles on the road that night were out of order due to the severe waterlogging.

People concerned say waterlogging is very common in case of a heavy rain. However, the water will recede rapidly if the drainage system is up to the mark. And we don’t have a proper drainage system.

The Dhaka WASA was in charge of resolving the waterlogging problem in Dhaka. The city corporations used to blame the Dhaka WASA in case of waterlogging in the city.

For instance, in July 2020, the two city mayors went out with the local government minister Tajul Islam to observe the water logging situation in the city.

After visiting several areas of the city, DSCC mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor said, “It is the responsibility of the WASA and the Water Development Board to resolve the waterlogging problem in the city. However, they failed.”

Dhaka north city mayor Atiqul Haque said, “People blame us for waterlogging.”

Later, the main responsibility of resolving the waterlogging problem in the city was officially handed over to the two city corporations on 31 December, 2020. However, the situation hasn’t changed that much. There are some roads in the south city corporation where any sort of rain causes waterlogging.

DSCC’s chief executive officer (CEO) Mizanur Rahman was present at the event where the DSCC mayor said that water would be drained out within 15 minutes.

Speaking to Prothom Alo yesterday, he said, “I don’t know who said about removing waterlogging within 15 minutes.”

He also suggested the correspondent to contact the DSCC chief engineer in this regard. Prothom Alo tried to reach DSCC chief engineer Ashiqur Rahman over the phone. However, he didn’t respond.

Waterlogging sees spree of projects

Sources at the DSCC’s engineering department said when water inundates an area, a project is undertaken to remove the water. A total of 136 places have been marked as waterlogged over the past three years, and infrastructures including drains have been constructed in 103 places with construction of the remaining places underway. The agency spent Tk 2.25 billion on this purpose.

An office of the DSCC’s engineering department told Prothom Alo on condition of anonymity that work must start from the path of water flow to remove waterlogging, but this does not happen. The official said rainwater from Old Dhaka falls to the Buriganga river after flowing below the Babubazar second bridge, and that drain is very old, but the city corporation is renovating drains inside the areas instead of renovating this important sewerage line. As a result, water does not flow properly.

The DSCC, however, took up no plan to remove waterlogging in the New Market area over the past 12 years. A responsible official of the DSCC told Prothom Alo that, previously, water from New Market and its adjacent area reached the Buriganga river flowing through the drain of Pilkhana’s gate 3 area (Azimpur-New Paltan lane), and that road was closed after the 2009 Pilkhana carnage, but the DSCC could find no alternative route in the past 12 years. As a result, if water clogs in the New Market area it does not recede quickly.

Replying to a query on why no initiative has been taken up to address waterlogging in the New Market area, an engineer of the DSCC told Prothom Alo on condition of anonymity on 22 September that a project has been undertaken to alleviate the waterlogging problem in this area at a cost of about Tk 50 million. Once the project is implemented, water from the New Market area will fall into the Buriganga river after flowing through the Kalunagar canal. The official, however, could not ascertain whether work on this project will be completed before the next monsoon.

Waterlogging exists despite spending

According to sources at Dhaka WASA and city corporations, at least Tk 30 billion has been spent to resolve waterlogging problems in Dhaka city over the past 12 years. The two Dhaka city corporations spent at least Tk 7 billion in three fiscal years since they took over from the Dhaka WASA, and also plan to spend another Tk 2 billion in the current fiscal.

Urban planners said what the two city corporations are doing is a ‘quack remedy’. They said there is a clear lack of coordinated plans in the city corporations’ activities to alleviate waterlogging, and only money is being spent without giving impotence to nature.

Officials and urban planners of the two city corporations said rainwater reaches the river in several phases after flowing through drains and canals. Rainwater first goes to the underground sewerage line through the catch pit, but the mouth of many catch pits and drains have been blocked because of road and walkway renovation work. Various waste including polythene, food packets, plastic bottles, as well as sand may block the mouth of the drain.

Rainwater reaches canals and rivers after flowing through underground drains, but the condition of those drains is bad. Besides, the accumulation of soil on the canal bed also reduces its depth and water-holding capacity.

Urban planners said a city requires water bodies on 12 per cent of its total land, but Dhaka has 2 per cent only, which is why there is no place to keep rainwater.

Architect Iqbal Habib, who is the joint secretary of urbanisation and city governance of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA, thinks the mayors of the Dhaka city corporations have made a farce over the waterlogging situation in Dhaka. He told Prothom Alo the city corporations had appointed skilled manpower after they took charge of alleviating the waterlogging problem from Dhaka WASA, but did not work a bit. Yet they talk big.

Damage and death in waterlogging

According to the Population and Housing Census 2022 of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), more than 10.2 million people live in Dhaka city. Waterlogging causes various sufferings to people’s lives, increases travel costs, as well as causes damage to the economy. The World Bank released a report titled “Climate and disaster resilience of greater Dhaka area: a micro level analysis” in 2025. It said waterlogging causes damage of approximately Tk 3 billion annually, and the figure will be higher now.

Waterlogging causes death sometimes. Physican Palash De was electrocuted and died after the stagnant water was electrified in the capital's Green Road in 2019. This time, four people including three of a family died in the capital Mirpur on 21 September after they came in contact with electricity when an electric wire broke and fell on the stagnant water on the road. They were Mizan Hawlader, 35, his wife Mukta, 25, and the couple’s daughter Lima, 7, and Mohammad Anik, 18, who died while trying to save the couple’s seven-month-old child.

The child’s grandfather, Nasir Hawlader told Prothom Alo, “My grandchild became an orphan at such early age.”

This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu and Hasanul Banna