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Dhaka Tribune

Expert: Timing of ongoing deluge spared Bangladesh from major damages

He also said the pandemic relocated many people from urban to flood affected rural areas, making the situation more complex

Update : 22 Jul 2020, 02:09 PM

Leading water expert Professor Dr Ainun Nishat has said the timing of the ongoing floods spared the country from greater damages particularly in terms of crop losses despite inflated waters in major rivers, inundating vast areas in upstream and central regions.

“The flood damage cannot be measured considering water level, timing of the deluge is more important . . . floods in April or September cause a huge havoc,” he told BSS in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

Nishat said deluges that occur in July were more manageable than those in April or September, particularly in terms of crop losses. So, the ongoing flood could have effect on crops, other than some quantum of vegetables and Aman seedbeds.

“Now only jute and Aus paddy are there on the field. Jute is almost mature enough to be harvested and Aus can grow keeping pace with the height of water level,” he added.

However, he fears the Covid-19 pandemic has brought an extra threat for the people in river shoals.

“The ongoing flood squeezed the population density particularly in chars, forcing a higher number of people to live in smaller areas, exposing themselves to higher risks of the contagious disease,” Nishat said.

He said the pandemic relocated many people from urban to flood affected rural areas, making the situation more complex.

Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC), however, predicted a deteriorating deluge scenario by the end of July with onrush of huge quantum of waters from upstream regions in India due to heavy precipitation in the upstream areas.

Nishat said a changed scenario caused by climate change, increased population and expanded infrastructure and cultivations in flood plains largely made the existing flood management schemes ineffective, requiring revised ones.

“The country’s population has increased and they spread in chars (shoals) and vulnerable areas, a situation that requires us to rethink about the flood management,” he said.

Nishat said the population in Jamuna chars that used to be an estimated 300,000 is now over an estimated 2400,000, meaning a higher number of people are exposed to risks of flood damage.

He said the country simultaneously witnessed higher quantum of high yielding and flood tolerant vegetables productions in the past several years but unplanned infrastructures, particularly construction of roads in many areas, were causing prolonged waterlogging in flood seasons.

“The conventional flood management methods are not functioning effectively . . . Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) should form a task force involving local and international experts to contain deluge damages, redesigning the flood management system,” he said.

Nishat, who played the pivotal technical role in preparing the outline of the landmark 1996 Ganges Treaty with India, suggested the planning commission’s concerned member who led the drafting of the Delta Plan-2100 or the water resources secretary could be tasked to lead the task force.

The top water expert defined “flood” as “inundation plus damage” declining to call mere inundations as floods unless the waters cause any major damage.

“It is a routine phenomenon that chars will be inundated during the monsoon and the char dwellers are very aware of it with preparedness to prevent losses . . . Do you call it a flood?” he said.

Nishat also questioned a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimation saying around 7500,000 people have been affected due to flooding this year as most homesteads of Jamuna’s chars were inundated.

“How are they were affected if they know what happens when river water is inflated in the monsoon every year and take required measures so they lose nothing due to the inundation?” he questioned.

However, Nishat said, collapse of flood protection embankments by gushing waters causes major damage, washing away homesteads and other infrastructures and damaging standing crops.

He was also critical of BWDB’s role in proper maintenance of flood control structures, repairing them in time to evade havocs in many areas while routinely getting allocation for embankment repairs in April or May every year.

“They (BWDB) start repair works in May and then the floodwater arrives in June, offsetting repair works . . . BWDB reports in July that they repaired the embankments but floodwater damaged it,” Nishat said, regretting the practice.

He suggested that the estimate and tender for embankment repairs should be completed during the months of July, August, September and October.

“All preparation must be taken to this end in November, and the embankment repair works should be carried out during a four-month period – December, January, February and March,” Nishat said.

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