Dhaka's canals look more like green fields

It may look like a field, but it's actually a canal. It has been filled with garbage and taken on this shape. The local people call it the dead canal, officially it's called Manda. East Manda of Mugda under Dhaka South City, Friday afternoonDipu Malakar

The official name of the canal is Manda canal, but the local people call it the dead canal. The canal is filled with weeds, hyacinth and garbage. In certain places it is so filled up that it looks like a green field. There has been no garbage removal from this canal for the past one and a half years and the water flow has come to an almost complete halt.

The Manda canal is eight and a half kilometres in length. It is 12 feet wide in some places, 50 foot in some. This is the largest canal under Dhaka South City. The canal starts at Maniknagar. After that it flows through North Manda, Sukhnagar, Shekher Jayga and Trimohoni in Khilgaon to end up in the river Balu.

During the monsoon, a large amount of the rain water in the Dhaka South City Corporation area is carried by four canals including Manda and flows in the rivers Balu and Buriganga. The other three canals are Jirani, Shyampur and Kalunagar.

Dhaka South City Corporation has taken up a Tk 8.98 billion (Tk 898 crore) project to clear the four canals of garbage and silt. Though the project was given approval in October 2022, the city is still waiting to start work in full swing and so for one and a half years the garbage has not been cleared from these four canals. As a result, even last year various parts of the capital were inundated at least six times during the heavy rains. On 21 September last year, the capital faced extensive waterlogging from the evening. Most of the main streets of Dhaka South City remain under water for hours. A large number of cars broke down on the roads.

Earlier, on 9 August afternoon, one hour's rain brought the entire capital to a standstill. Heavy rains create waterlogging in various roads. Shahbagh, Bangla Motor, Dhanmondi, Moghbazar, Motijheel, Kakrail, Shantinagar, Malibagh, Mouchak, Bailey Road, Paltan, Press Club area and large parts of Old Dhaka were inundated. In some area the water didn't recede for seven to eight hours. Urban planners fear that this time too the same situation may emerge of there is heavy rains. They say, in no way should have the garbage removal work stopped. It is imperative that steps be taken to ensure the water flow of all these canals before the rainy season.

Canals look like green fields

This Prothom Alo correspondent visited the four main canals under Dhaka South City on 15, 16 and 18 March. The four canals are Manda, Jirani, Shyampur and Kalunagar.

A part of Manda canal runs through the area Mugda. There are two bridges side by side over this part of the canal at the Green Model Town entrance. There is no water in the canal under these two bridges. Looking from the bridge, it looks like a green field below. This part of the canal is entirely filled with grass. Anyone can walk over the canal in this place instead of using the bridge. Local resident Shafiqul Islam, speaking to Prothom Alo on 15 March, said there was flow of water in this part of the canal even four or five years ago. It was visibly a canal. Now one can't tell whether it's a canal or playing grounds. Just one and a half kilometres from this bridge at Mugda is another bridge over Manda canal at Sukhnagar. Over there, garbage is piled high in the canal.

Ahnaf Rashid, a local youth in Sikhnagar, said that garbage is dumped into the canal all around the year. The city corporation hasn't cleaned this part of the canal for the past one and a half to two years.

Jirani canal is four kilometres from the Mugda part of Manda canal. It is four kilometres long and 20 ft wide in some places and 50 ft in other places. The canal begins at Sabujbagh. It flows through various areas, passes though Trimohoni in Khilgaon and also ends up in the river Balu. This correspondent of Prothom Alo on 15 March went around two kilometres of the canal. Water flow had come to a halt in most places of the canal due the accumulation of weeds, garbage and hyacinth.

Since the approval of the 'Canal reclamation, restoration and beautification project' in October 2022, the city corporation's waste management department has not cleared the garbage from the canals

The Shyampur canal is a bit longer than Jirani. It is around five kilometres in length. Its width in parts is 15 ft and in parts 35 ft. Starting from Boroitala in East Jurain, passing through Zia Sarani, Mohammadbagh it enters Pagla canal in Siddhirganj. A visit on 16 March to the Boroitola part of this canal, it was seen that it was filled with household waste. But half a kilometre from Boroitala the canal flows with black water in the Shyampur area.

As a large part of Shyampur canal is filled up, during the monsoons last year the residents of Shyampur, Jurain and Kadamtali had to suffer several times due to waterlogging. Resident of East Jurain Boroitola area, Taslim Hossain, told Prothom Alo that many of the roads in the area were under water during the last rains.

Parts of Manda and Jirani canals are in Dhaka South City Corporation's ward 5. Councillor of this ward, Chittaranjan Das, told Prothom Alo that is the garbage was cleared from the canal every year, there would not have been so much waterlogging.

Garbage has piled up in Dhaka South City's Kalunagar canal too. This canal is two and a half kilometres in length and 15 ft wide in some places and 150 ft wide in other places. The canal begins at the Hazaribagh embankment, goes through various area and ends up the Rayer Bazar sluice gates. A visit to the Rayer Bazar part of the canal reveals garbage covering at least 500 metres of the canal. This is obstructing the canal's water flow. Local residents say that some of the canal has filled and become like a narrow drain. This canal hasn't been cleared for the last one or two years.

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Active at the outset

From December 2020 Dhaka North City Corporation and Dhaka South City Corporation officially took over charge of the canals and drains from Dhaka WASA. South City got the responsibility to maintain seven of the canals. Three of these are box culverts (Arambagh-Segunbagicha, Panthapath and Dholai Khal). Dhaka North City got responsibility of maintaining 29 canals.

In the two years after taking over from Dhaka WASA, Dhaka South City Corporation continuously cleared the canals or garbage and silt. This yielded good results in 2021 and 2022. In those two years, there was no acute waterlogging during the rains in Dhaka South City Corporation area.

However, since the approval of the 'Canal reclamation, restoration and beautification project' in October 2022, the city corporation's waste management department has not cleared the garbage from the canals. The impact of this was felt last year. In August and September last year, a few heavy rainfalls sent many areas of Dhaka South City Corporation under water for long spans of time.

This Tk 8.98 billion (Tk 898 crore) project is supposed to be completed in June 2027. One and a half years have already passed, but work on the project has not started properly. Project director and Dhaka South City Corporation superintending engineer Khairul Baker told Prothom Alo that the contractors have been given the work order to remove the garbage from the canals. The work has even begun in some places. He said, it is difficult to delineate the canal boundaries and that it why it is taking time to start the work in full swing.

Urban planners, however, say that it is not as if Dhaka South City will be free of waterlogging once this project is implemented. The reason behind this, they say, is there are many stages of the rainwater going from the drains to the canals and on to the rivers. The rainwater first goes through the catch pit (the grill that covers the drain) into the sewerage drain below. The drain opening also gets blocked up with polythene, chips packets, plastic bottles and all sorts of waste as well as sand. These drains need to be cleaned regularly. It is questionable as to how efficiently the city corporation carries out this task.

Even now the city corporation is working haphazardly on resolving the waterlogging problem, but in many cases is this just a waste of money
Iqbal Habib, architect

According to city corporation sources, under the project for the restoration and beautification of Kalunagar, Jirani, Manda and Shyampur canals, an 8 ft protection wall will be constructed along 38km of the canal banks with 36 pedestrian bridges and 19 bridges for vehicle crossing. Also, under the project, a 32km walkway, bicycle lanes, 10 public toilets and 771 lights will be set up.

Assurances, but no implementation

Dhaka South City mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh in his election manifesto had said that measures would be taken to address the waterlogging problem. It is nearly four years since he became mayor, during which time he has given many assurances of resolving the waterlogging problem. For example, at an event in Old Dhaka's Wari on 12 February last year, he said that even if there is excessive rains in the monsoons, water will drain away within 15 minutes. But last monsoon after heavy rainfall, certain roads in Dhaka were under water for hours. On 21 September last year, rain at the night led to waterlogging that lasted till the evening of 22 September. There was water for 15 hours on the roads in Old Dhaka's Bangshal, North South Road, Kazi Alauddin Road, Agha Sadeq Khan Road, the road in front of Sikkatuli Park and the New Market area. On 23 September Prothom Alo published a report on the 'water meant to drain out in 15 minute, didn't move in 15 hours'.

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Architect Iqbal Habib, involved in the civic movements, said that the city corporation must work continuously on ensuring that the water flows from the drains to the canals, and also that the canals are reclaimed and restored. Speaking to Prothom Alo he said, work on clearing out the garbage in no way can be halted in anticipation of the project. Even now the city corporation is working haphazardly on resolving the waterlogging problem, but in many cases is this just a waste of money.

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

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