Large swathes of Bangladesh have been inundated for almost 40 days after floods swept across the country in three phases, throwing millions of lives into disarray.
But the situation is unlikely to change anytime soon, experts warned.
At least 12 rivers in the country are flowing above the danger level at 16 points, the Flood Forecast and Warning Centre of Bangladesh Water Development Board said on Saturday.
But the water levels in the basins of Brahmaputra-Jamuna, Ganges-Padma and Meghna rivers are on the decline. Rivers around Dhaka have also begun to recede. However, Prof AKM Saiful Islam of BUET’s Institute of Water and Flood Management remains wary of the situation.
“We haven’t left any avenue for the flood water to recede normally. The water is receding now, but the problem is that there will be heavy rainfall again. The Brahmaputra river is likely to overflow after August 13. We must be prepared to tackle the floods for a few more days,” he told bdnews24.com.
While it is difficult to predict the weather for August and September at such an early stage, the forecast showed a likelihood of heavy downpour, increasing the possibilities of floods occurring in Jashore, Kushtia and Rajshahi — the districts that are yet experience flooding. Last year, the onrush from the Ganges triggered a flood around October, said Prof Islam.
The monsoon was more active this year, triggering heavy rains while man-made problems prevented the floodwaters from subsiding naturally.
This year, floods have ravaged the country’s northern regions all the way down to Dhaka, the geographer said. Instances of land erosion are more frequent now, which is making matters worse. Long-term floods are aggravating the problem of erosion, he added.
Low-lying areas in Dhaka, Gazipur, Tangail, Manikganj, Faridpur, Munshiganj, Rajbari, Madaripur, Shariatpur, Gopalganj, Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, Netrokona, Jamalpur, Chandpur, Noakhali, Brahmanbaria, Rajshahi, Naogaon, Natore, Sirajganj, Bogura, Pabna, Rangpur, Kurigram, Nilphamari, Gaibandha, Lalmonirhat, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj and Sunamganj districts are flooded, according to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
At least 1 million villages across the 163 upazilas in these districts are inundated, affecting about 5.4 million people.
“The flood has a different nature this year due to increased river erosion. Earlier, it was only the Chandpur district that experienced high levels of river erosion. But now it is happening more in Shariatpur, Madaripur, Faridpur and other places,” said Saiful Hossain, an engineer of Bangladesh Water Development Board.
The middle of the country is shaped like a plate, from where the flood water usually recedes in a week. Heavy rain triggered by low pressure, the influence of the new moon or squally weather over the Bay of Bengal sometimes contribute to slowing down the pace of water recession. Man-made obstacles to the natural flow of rivers add to the problem.
At one time, Dhaka had 52 canals flowing through it but the number has since dropped to 23, said Prof Islam, citing the data given by Dhaka city corporations, RAJUK, and WASA. The floodwaters would never linger if it could recede through more than 52 canals, according to Prof Islam of BUET.
“The flood crisis worsens when people fill up the water bodies. It’s not only because of rain, but also because of the lack of ways for water to recede. We need to prepare for that. ” It will take another week for the floodwaters to subside in the areas around Dhaka, according to him. Areas such as Savar, Keraniganj, Dohar and Manikganj are experiencing stagnant flooding. Dhaka, however, will take longer to be free of the floodwaters in comparison to other places.
“This is because the water got trapped in the city due to its many streets and roads. The floodplains are inundated and will take time to recede. It would be easier to drain the water if we had grass plains. Many water pockets have been created and it will take time to recede. It’s not just the rains but also man-made action that have worsened the flood situation.”
Highlighting the inadequacy of the country’s flood management system, Prof Islam continued, “Most of the water bodies in and around Dhaka have been filled. The water could easily pass through those. Now all those are landfilled with buildings being constructed on them. Urban areas and factories are everywhere. Where will the water go?
“It will either go to the river or remain where it is. This is the problem.”
Bangladesh has been grappling with floods since time immemorial. Its intensity depends on the level of rainfall during the monsoon, particularly in the upstream — that is the eastern part of India.
This year, the country is experiencing long-term flooding due to the climate and weather, said Prof Islam. The poor navigability of rivers is also playing a big part in the crisis.
“The flow of water to the sea has slowed due to the barriers everywhere. Long spells of rain and siltation of riverbeds exacerbated the flood situation. Due to urbanisation, floods are also occurring inside the cities.”
Bangladesh has already been battered by a cyclone along with floods this season. It has entered a risk zone, according to Prof Islam.
“We are yet to finalise the study on the effects of climate change. According to the scientific research, climate change will actively affect South Asia. We view the man-made interventions and climate change as the main factors behind the floods.”
There will be more floods and rain due to the change in climate, he said, adding, “We experienced floods in 2016, 2017, 2019 and this year, which substantiates the claim. Earlier, the floods never occurred in such short intervals.”
The country’s flood management plan was designed in the 1950s, and then again in the 1980s, said Prof Nazrul Islam, chairman of Urban Research Centre. Now the government has taken up the ‘Delta Plan’, a massive project.
Floods are a reality here in Bangladesh, he said. Proper maintenance of the rivers and waterbodies prevents flooding.
“Dhaka is surrounded by small and big rivers, which should be dredged. The Delta Plan is very important and it must be implemented properly.”
The authorities should protect the rivers from being encroached, added Nazrul. “They should not be leased out under any circumstances. A long-term, sustainable plan must be implemented to this end.”