Sustainable coastal embankments a must

6 June, 2021 12:00 AM printer

‘The tidal water is rising. Everyone, come forward a little again. If you don't heed again, we can no longer be able to protect our dam’- standing on the road a member of the village police was earnestly urging his fellows with a hand mike in Koyra of Khulna while the cyclone Yaas was affecting with a huge tidal surge. Although the local community took initiative to repair the dam, it was difficult to work with the intense flow of water coming. The picture which was subjected to disclose the impacts of the cyclone Yaas was undoubtedly worrisome. Albeit, the cyclone Yaas did not hit Bangladesh directly; only inundated large areas of the coast, yet it affected significantly in multiple aspects. 

There is no easy way to go back to normalcy for thousands of residents of the coastal region as tidal surges caused by cyclone Yaas left a trail of destruction to their houses, farms, fisheries, and even roads. Breaches in embankments and swelling of coastal rivers by 1-2 meters, made water invade many villages to flood homes and wash away the belongings of some of the most underprivileged people of Bangladesh.

The flood control dams in the southern part of the country were built in the sixties and are no longer able to protect the lives and properties of the people of the region in face of frequent hits by cyclones. Districts like Cox's Bazar, Noakhali, Laxmipur, Bhola, Patuakhali, Barguna, Pirojpur, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Khulna, etc. are critically threatened by the tidal water during the cyclones. We have reportedly come to know that the cyclone Yaas has damaged almost 95 km of coastal embankments. The coastal defenses are dilapidated and mostly useless as, unfortunately, they had not yet been fully repaired after the damage that had happened during Aila and Sidr.

Two consecutive natural disasters like floods and cyclones especially during the Covid-19 pandemic have severely disrupted life in the affected areas. Dam construction plays an important role as one of the structural solutions to flood control, to save the people in the northern regions as well as the coastal areas. Damage to embankments by floods or cyclones can incur huge economic losses and social impairments to the areas. Life and livelihood faces many adversities and quandaries there even in normal times. 

Cutting of soil from the dams, free movement of cattle on it, illegal settlements, and indirect use of the embankments in agriculture might hit the longevity and trim down their capacity. So, the concerned local administration has to take stern legal action to stop soil extraction from the dams. Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) along with NGOs in collaboration with the local volunteers should come forward to raise awareness among people regarding dam conservation.

The dams, by and large, have to undergo extreme pressures during floods and cyclones. Henceforth, the Coastal Embedding and the Anti-demolition Development Projects need to be strengthened in a larger margin. In this regard, geotextile bagging and hydraulic structure can be used in the line of modern technology. Besides, the soil of the dams must be compacted and analysed in respect of quality before use for dam construction. 

Climate experts opine that there is a risk of frequent catastrophic cyclones in the future due to climate change. Sea levels rising as well as water surging is anticipated to be higher than before in the next calamities. We also experienced a tidal wave nearly 10-15 feet high during Amphan last year. Existing low-altitude dams, on the whole, fail to cope with tidal waves during cyclones. Therefore, the dams have to be restored and built considering the reality of high tide.

Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), so far, has not conducted any comprehensive survey in the recent past regarding the holistic improvement of those embankments built earlier. Though we know that the embankment is regarded as a significant man-made component to play a crucial role in protecting the coast from cyclones. Hence, the concerned quarters should necessarily come up with proper measures in an integrated manner to spend public money only for the public interest and for the sake of the coastal communities.

Reportedly, projects for dredging two dozen rivers and making embankment protections aimed at combating floods, cyclones and erosion across the country are set to miss the deadline of this June due to fund crunch, red tape and mistakes in assessments. The projects are crucial to reducing the damage of croplands and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, a common phenomenon during the monsoon when rivers of the country swell and terrible calamities appear. It seems that the flood management and control activities are losing tempo. Now, it is imperative to carry out the timely restoration of the affected and faulty embankments. Otherwise, the absence of time-befitting right endeavours might escalate costs and cause massive suffering for people further.


Wares Ali Khan, an academic