We must be ready for floods every year: Professor Saiful

Professor AKM Saiful Islam of the Institute of Water and Flood Management at BUET
Professor AKM Saiful Islam of the Institute of Water and Flood Management at BUET

Bangladesh and a few other Asian countries have been facing severe floods. Experts predicted that the country will experience prolonged floods this year. Prothom Alo’s Iftekhar Mahmood talked to professor AKM Saiful Islam of the Institute of Water and Flood Management at BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) about floods, flood management and relief for the victims.

The first question to professor AKM Saiful Islam was about the nature of floods this year. He said it is normal that around 20-25 percent areas of Bangladesh will go under floodwaters every year because of its geographical location. But it is a matter of concern when over 25 percent of the areas are flooded. And it creates more problems if the floodwater stays for over a week. “This type of flood occurs in this region every 2.33 years. But we have been observing severe floods in Brahmaputra basin regularly for the last five years. The floods this year too will be greater after the 1998 floods in terms of the time it lasts.”

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In response to a question about the main reason of recurrence of flood, the BUET professor said rise in temperature and climate change cause this. As a result of this, it is raining more at the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, the siltation in the Brahmaputra basin has augmented. The water storage capacity of the rivers is decreasing. That is why flash floods are turning serious very quickly. “In a recent study of BUET, we have found that the amount of rain and siltation in Brahmaputra will increase in the coming days. That’s why probably we have to be ready for this type of flood almost every year and prepare accordingly.”

In a recent study of BUET, we have found that the amount of rain and siltation in Brahmaputra will increase in the coming days. That’s why probably we have to be ready for this type of flood almost every year and prepare accordingly

Prothom Alo asked him about whether there are man-made reasons directly affecting the flood situation.

Saiful Islam said actions of people are indirectly changing the climate. But as an immediate action, he mentioned that building various structures in the rivers affected the natural flow. The basins of the rivers have changed a lot in the last 50 years because of the construction of embankments, destruction of forests upstream and rapid urbanisation. These are also increasing the recurrence of floods, he added.

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Saiful Islam further said around 7,555 kilometres of embankments have been constructed along the rivers in Bangladesh, while 7,907 structures have been constructed for controlling the water flow and 3,205 water removal drains. “At the same time, we have to remember that the rivers have to be dredged regularly and properly to keep the water flow normal. We also have to continue discussion with upstream countries like India for sharing waters of common rivers. The flood forecast system also has to be modernised.”

He said the main goal of flood management should be saving lives.

Prothom Alo asked him whether our flood control infrastructure is being able to control floods. Saiful Islam unambiguously said, “No.” He said the solution based on construction of infrastructures is not working as the infrastructure has, in many cases, increased the tendency of flooding by hindering the natural flow of the rivers. And, flood control infrastructure is constructed keeping bigger towns, ports and important infrastructure in mind. That is necessary but how the village people will live with floods also has to be included in the overall planning.

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He said, earlier, the people of flood-prone areas would build homes on high grounds so that the floodwater cannot enter. This is not in practice now. That has to be revived. The water bodies have to be linked with rivers and its tributaries. Floods cannot be faced by constructing infrastructures only.

What more could be done to face floods in the coming days was the last question to professor AKM Saiful Islam. To this he said the most important thing is, flood management system should be built considering the effect of climate change in the coming days.

“The infrastructure has to be reshaped keeping in mind the changes the river basins are going to see in the next 100 years. And encroachers have to be evicted. Finally, no initiative would be successful if the local people are not made part of the flood management plan.”

* The interview, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in report form in English by Shameem Reza