'We have lack of coordination in flood management'

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Flood has already ravaged parts of Bangladesh. Experts fear the flood can be prolonged this year. Prothom Alo’s Iftekhar Mahmud interviewed Selim Momtaz, an associate professor of University of New Castle, Australia, regarding the flood management and relief activities.

Not only Bangladesh, both developed and underdeveloped countries experience natural disasters like flood. Can you elaborate on the difference in flood management of Bangladesh with other countries?

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Floods occur in different countries including USA, Australia and China. But they can prevent the man-made reasons of flood. Apart from natural causes, there are some man-made reasons for the deterioration of flood situation. The construction of infrastructure obstructing the natural flow of river is one such reason. Those countries have strict law prohibiting such man-made reasons of flood and proper state management to implement those laws. They also have adequate resources and trained manpower to face natural disasters. If you consider the incident of bush fire in Australia, you can see they quickly evacuated the people from the affected areas. Volunteers rushed in with required equipment to dose the fire. The government and people stood by the affected people.

Where are we legging behind?

We have enough laws regarding disaster, environment and other aspects. We also hear that we have enough resources. We don’t have lack of people to volunteer. Questions can be raised why we still come across so many problems in flood management. We, I think, are failing to combine all our capabilities and we have a lack of coordination.

The government has set up shelter centers and it provides relief to the flood affected people. But there is allegation that people are not using the facilities the government provides.

Flood affected people, I think, are not to be blamed in this regard. We have researched on shelter centers of Bangladesh and found those facilities beset with mismanagement. People don’t want to go to those centers unless they don’t have any other alternative. Because the shelter centers lack security and other facilities. Most of the women don’t get chance to use the toilet facilities during daytime. Also, most of the women don’t want to go to shelter centers fearing safety of their homes. So, we must improve the management of our shelter centers.

Many people don’t even support the concept of big shelter centers. They think some shelter centre-like heavy pukka houses can be built in every locality which will be used for social activities of local people normally. People can take shelter at those houses during flood.

Yes, it can be a solution. Distance of shelter centres is also a reason of people’s apathy. People can look after their house and belongings if shelter centres are near. There are such community centres in China which yielded positive results.

Many countries including Bangladesh are simultaneously facing coronavirus situation and flood. How to fight this double blow?

World Health Organization issued a guideline on dealing with other contagious diseases during flood. But they are yet to issue any guideline on how to face flood in times of coronavirus. Like Bangladesh, Brazil and China are also facing flood and coronavirus situation simultaneously. They are carrying out rescue work wearing masks and PPEs. Also, they have engaged people trained in disaster management and disease control in rescue work. We have lacks in such management in our country.

How can we face flood and coronavirus simultaneously?

We have seen huge participation of people in relief and rescue works during bush fire in Australia. In Bangladesh, the government should engage general people and volunteers in tackling the natural disaster. The authorities should ensure that people can come out to help others. Otherwise, sufferings of people will only increase.

Thank you for the interview

Thank you.