The previous cyclones including Sidr, Aila and Amphan hit the southwest coast Bangladesh, leaving the southeast mostly unaffected. However, the latest tidal surge due to the cyclone Yaas caused damage more or less in all the coastal districts. Particularly Saint Martin’s–the sole coral island of Bangladesh–was affected with most of the embankments, roads and houses devastated. Half of the 10,000 population of the island lost their shelters. The tidal surge flooded coastal parts of Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali, Lakshmipur, Bhola, Patuakhali, Barguna, Pirojpur, Bagerhat and Satkhira districts.
Bangladesh has been hit by cyclones on a regular basis because of geographical and natural causes. Since we have to live with natural calamities, there is no alternative to build sustainable resistance. The state minister for disaster management admitted that the coastal embankments erected in the 1960s now have turned less effective. But who will make the less-effective embankments effective again?
This is unfortunate that some embankments damaged by the cyclones Aila and Sidr are not repaired yet. The Water Development Board officials are used to making similar excuses, that they have placed project proposals and would start repair works duly after getting necessary approval. In the near past, WDB did not even survey the existing embankments. Statistics show that most of the 6,000km coastal embankment is now in a dilapidated condition. Moreover, high tides easily inundate the newly risen river islands and destroy houses, roads and crop fields as the islands are not protected by embankments.
Natural shields play crucial role to protect the coast from cyclone. The Sundarbans as a natural shield has been protecting a part of the country effectively. Another solution is the man-made embankments. Building a green belt by afforestation of swamp trees is also an effective resistance.
There are green belts across Bhola and other coastal districts. But the coast remains unprotected as there is no comprehensive plan and nothing has been done yet considering the coastal districts as a belt. It is a relief that the cyclone Yaas did not hit Bangladesh this time. But the risk of a catastrophe will prevail unless the necessary steps are taken, considering the cyclone as a warning.
The government should reconstruct the costal embankments keeping the ever rising level of tides in consideration instead of repairing the existing ones as routine task. Experts have opined that climate change as well as rising sea level is increasing the risk of frequent and devastating cyclones ahead. Higher tidal waves will also be recorded than before. At the same time, steps need to be taken to conserve and protect the natural shields like the Sundarbans. Projects and development programmes that are marked as threatening to the Sundarbans should be revoked.