Huge funds to prevent water logging go down the drain

Last week 3 hours of rain inundated Dhaka city
Last week 3 hours of rain inundated Dhaka cityProthom Alo

Dhaka’s two city corporations spend around Tk 2 billion (Tk 200 crore) to Tk 3 billion (Tk 300 crore) every year in order to resolve the city’s water logging problems, but to no avail.

Due to poor waste management and lack of maintenance, this expenditure hardly makes any difference. The capital city is waterlogged at the slightest rainfall, but the city corporations never take the blame.

Whenever the city is inundated with water, one organisation blames the other. But, experts say, no matter who is to blame, if the city corporation properly managed the city’s waste, ensured proper convenient garbage disposal and mobilised public awareness, this problem would have been resolved to a great extent.

In other cities of the country, it is the city corporations that are responsible to address the water logging problem. Only in Dhaka, this problem is dealt with by six organisations in all, including the city corporation, Dhaka WASA and the Water Development Board.

In a three-hour span of rainfall last week, many areas of Dhaka city went under water. The local government minister Tajul Islam then held an online conference with all the relevant agencies to discuss the problem. Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) mayor Sheikh Fazle Nur Taposh challenged the other service providers, saying that their data and information was inaccurate.

In the afternoon on the same day, the two mayors went around the city along with the local government minister to see the water logging for themselves. They pointed to various discrepancies of Dhaka WASA and said they were willing to take the WASA canals under their own control.

The DSCC mayor Sheikh Fazle Nur Taposh said that it was the responsibility of WASA and the Water Development Board to resolve the city’s water logging, but they have failed to do so. And Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor Atiqul Islam said, “If the roads go under water, we get the flak. That is why we have requested the minister to hand over WASA’s canals to us. We want to show the people that we do what we say.”

Architect Iqbal Habib said the city corporation’s expenditure on constructing new drains and repairs may be justified, but unless the matter of solid waste management is added to this, then the money will be spent in vain.

The city corporations also have a certain amount of responsibility, even though they blame the others. After all, they spend billions every year on water logging.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Sunday, DNCC mayor Atiqul Islam said that it should be seen who bears more responsibility. He said, “We have 1250 km of drains. That means we need to increase our competence too. Rather than blaming, all the service providers have to carry out their respective responsibilities.”

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Expenditure of the two cities

It is basically the responsibility of WASA to resolve Dhaka’s water-logging. The large drains and canals involved in the process are all under WASA. But it is the city corporation’s smaller drains that carry water to these large drains and canals. The drains of the two city corporations combined are almost 2,211 km. DSCC has around 961 km of drains and DNCC around 1,250 km. The relevant engineer’s office was contacted to find out how much was spent on the construction and repairs of these drains.

The office informed Prothom Alo in writing that over the past five financial years, DSCC constructed and renovated around 597 km of drains , spending around Tk 10.14 million (Tk 1 crore 1 lakh 44 thousand). This amounted to a total expenditure of Tk 6.055 billion (Tk 605 crore 54 lakh ) in five years. And in these five years, DNCC constructed and repaired around 696 km of drains, costing around Tk 12.9 million (Tk 1 crore 29 lakh) per km, totaling around Tk 711 crore (Tk 7.11 million).

According to these calculations, the two city corporations have spent around Tk 13.16 billion (Tk 1,316 crore) on drain construction and repairs to address the water logging problem. And Dhaka WASA in three years has spent around Tk 1 billion (Tk 1000 crore) on this purpose.

Despite so much expenditure, there have been no results. Urban expert and architect Iqbal Habib told Prothom Alo, the city corporation’s expenditure on constructing new drains and repairs may be justified, but unless the matter of solid waste management is added to this, then the money will be spent in vain.

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Cannot avoid the blame

Legally speaking, the city corporation cannot avoid the blame. According to the city corporation act, the corporation will ensure adequate drains for the drainage of water from the city and will construct, maintain and renovate the drains and keep these clean in the interests of public health and welfare.

But though billions have been spent on constructing the drains, there is debate over how far effectively these are maintained and cleaned.

Corporation sources have said that, the city corporation has no separate department or manpower for drainage maintenance. There is also a shortage of adequate equipment and fund allocation for the purpose. The city corporation’s waste management department is in charge of maintaining the drains and carries our certain routine work in this regard. However, several of the city corporation officials have said that this is not adequate. When the drains are clogged with solid waste, the water cannot pass and the areas become waterlogged.

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City planner Adil Muhammed Khan said that the city corporation cannot avoid responsibility for this situation. He said that it is not enough just to make the drains, these must be maintained too. The drains are not free of garbage. The city corporation needs some self-criticism instead of disclaiming all blame. It must carry out its responsibilities.

And now the city corporation wants WASA’s drains and canals to be handed over to them. Adil Muhammad Khan said, it is not as if the problem will be resolved if the responsibility is handed over. But it can be considered as a beginning to the solution.

Weak waste management, careless public

Most of the year, Dhaka’s canals and drains are filled with garbage. Various organisations clean these from time to time, but then these just get filled again. So if the drains are not cleaned before the monsoons set in, water logging is inevitable.

When the DSCC mayor inspected the canal with the local government minister on Wednesday, it was more like a garbage dump than a canal.

The residents of the city throw rubbish into the drains. Again, when the drains are cleared, the waste is often disposed on the banks of the canals. The rain washes the garbage back into the canals and the canals get blocked. But it is the city corporation that is responsible for the disposal of the city’s solid waste.

According to the two city corporations, every day Dhaka city produces around 5000 to 6000 tonnes of waste. President of Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), Aktar Mahmud, said that the city corporation has not been successful in managing this waste. He said the city corporation can manage 60 per cent of Dhaka’s garbage. The remaining 40 per cent goes into the drains and canals. This blocks the drains and canals and creates water logging.

The waste management departments of the two city corporations claim that they carry out waste management properly. If so, how does the waste enter the canals? The Kalunagar canal in DSCC Ward 56 is filled with garbage.

Councillor of the ward, Mohammad Hossain, said it is difficult to say how the canal is filled with garbage. He blames the truck and ‘tempo’ stands in the area, the market and tea stalls. He says the local residents are 10 per cent responsible for this.

Kalshi canal in Mirpur is also in a deplorable state, filled with solid waste. Last year DNCC had re-excavated the canal. At the time, 88 truckloads of coconut husks, 33 mattresses, televisions, fridges and other items were removed from the canal, said DNCC mayor Atiqul Islam. About what measures he has taken in this regard, he said, “I have repeatedly told the people not to throw garbage into the canal.”

Recently DNCC’s website declared that disposing of garbage anywhere outside of the specified places will be considered a criminal offence. But so far no one has been punished for such an offence.

BIP president Akter Mahmud said the people must also be conscious and behave like exemplary citizens. They must stop throwing rubbish here and there. To ensure this, the city corporation must carry out regular monitoring through the local councilors and, if necessary, impose fines.

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DSCC took no action

On Wednesday the local government minister and the DSCC mayor first went to the Kalunagar canal. The canal starts from Hazaribagh canal and flows into the Buriganga channel. Last year the Water Development Board spent around Tk 15 million (Tk 1.5 crore) on re-excavating 2.3 km of the canal.

An official of the Water Development Board, on condition of anonymity, said that that the canal had been filled with garbage when it was being re-excavated. The garbage went down 15 to 16 ft. The people of the areas used the canal as a dustbin.

When the excavation was half done, people began throwing their garbage into the canal all over again. The Water Development Board then, on 11 June last year, issued a letter to the city corporation to prevent garbage from being dumped into the canal. DSCC took no visible action. So when the DSCC mayor inspected the canal with the local government minister on Wednesday, it was more like a garbage dump than a canal.

An official of the Water Development Board said they did not have the workforce to maintain the canals. They had dredged the canal as part of a project. The district administration was the owner of the canal. He said if garbage is continued to be dumped into the canal in this manner, water flow will come to a halt by next year.

Brac University’s emeritus profession Ainun Nishat told Prothom Alo that the city corporation, WASA and the Water Development Board had made the process of resolving the water logging problem very complicated. There had been four or five master plans, but these were never implemented.

He said that the task of dealing with the water logging should be given over entirely to the city corporation. At the same time the people’s representatives, including the ward councilors, must be empowered further.

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir