Besides the coronavirus epidemic, we have been suffering from monsoon floods. This year the flood is more damaging. According to the government, floods have engulfed 33 districts of the country. This has caused a loss of around Tk 60 billion, state minister for reliefs Md Enamur Rahman told journalists on 25 August.
The state minister was quoted in newspapers that the ministries would take up the rehabilitation plan after understanding the prevailing situation. He added that many steps are being taken to control the floods. However, he was a little reassured that the amount of damage this time was less than in the 1998 floods. This time 33 districts and 30 percent areas have been flooded. The state minister also said that various projects have been undertaken to river training and prevent river erosion. Unfortunately the coastal districts’ damages caused by the high tide were not included in the calculation.
Bangladesh as the downstream country faces many natural disasters. Storms and floods are a constant companion here. Though we have already set a good example in dealing with cyclones in minimizing loss of life and property, we are far behind in dealing with the floods. Although the death toll in the floods is low, but the loss of resources and human suffering is higher. Relief supplies to the victims are far less than they need. Even, through rehabilitation activities, victims cannot make up the losses. The number of people who lost everything in river erosion as a single disaster is much higher. Even river erosion is not considered a disaster, and we don't compensate people who have lost everything.
At the geographical position of our country, if all the activities that hinder the flow of water are stopped, water management will be normal even in the rainy season. Early and excessive rainfall in the Brahmaputra Basin and due to errors in water management worsens the flood situation in our country this time. Added to this the coastal areas have been submerged by the strong tides and rain caused by the depression in the Bay of Bengal.
From 1980 to 2000, there were seven major floods in Bangladesh. The floods of 1988 and 1998 were identified as catastrophic. At that time the Brahmaputra and the Ganges-Padma basins were active together, causing major floods. In 1988, 60 percent and in 1998, 80 percent of the area was flooded. According to the data, major floods occur every seven years and a catastrophic flood in 33 to 50 years.
The minister has mentioned river training to deal with floods or to make them flood tolerant. Rather, we want to say that water management has been damaged by doing river training. The Flood Control Plan after the 1988 floods did not get the expected results. When it rains, water logging is created in the cities due to improper drainage system. In cities, stagnant water is not drained unless the adjacent river ebbs. This is because the banks of our rivers are higher, compared to the lower reaches of the river and the floodplains. The inconsistent structure of drainage canals with riverbanks does not work properly. Structural strategies often reject geographical or natural conditions and make designs with simple calculations. We ignore the importance of the floodplain too. Floodplains collect rain water and discharged into large rivers through adjacent canals. But at present, large structures have become an obstacle to the free flow of water. Also in the upstream, numerous dams, including the Farakka, built by India, and several dams built by China in the Brahmaputra basin reduce water flow in the dry season, causing siltation and drying up of our rivers, and drowning us in the rainy season with their released water.
The breadth of the rivers are reduced by building dams and embankments on the two banks of the river in the name of river training, constructing sluice gates, creating roads, arbitrary culverts, and land graving. Those are obstructing the natural drainage routes and rain or flood water is stuck day after day.
We think it's time to thinking anew. We can move away from the path of killing the river in the name of controlling or training the river. Such an example is the southwestern part of the country which is active delta in terms of land formation, where almost all the rivers are dying in reaction to the Coastal Embankment Project-CEP implemented in the 1960s.
The huge amount of silt that used to rise in the tide and would have been swallowed in the floodplain through the rivers and canals here is blocked by the dam-sluice gates, being deposited in the rivers and the rivers are dying. We know about the water logging of the Bil Dakatia, Bhabdaha area. Needless to say, foreign knowledge and loan have completely ignored the importance of this silt in our water management. This deltaic island of the Ganges, east coast, central coast, and west coast are characterized by shining features. No matter what we do in our water management, geography has not taken these features into consideration. If we do not take these factors into account in our future plans, suffering will only increase. The idea of a structural solution alone will not bring good results. In our plans, we have to take into account the regional features as well as the differences in the rivers. It should not be forgotten that flood silt has made our floodplain fertile, which we are now helping to kill the river by not allowing into the floodplain.
* The writers are members of the ‘Life and Nature Safeguard Platform -LNSP’ a civil society forum