Chittagong city saw at least 12 canals vanish in the last 48 years, during which time the waterlogging problem exacerbated.
In a recent survey, jointly conducted by Chittagong City Corporation and Chittagong Wasa to draft a drainage and sanitation master plan, a mere 22 canals were found to be emptying into the Karnaphuli River.
However, there was no trace of 12 canals in the premier port city, the survey says.
The draft of this master plan plan will shortly be sent to the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives for approval.
JR Snell, a USA-based engineering firm, in a 1969 master plan on “Storm Drainage and Flood Control Master Plan and Feasibility Report for Chittagong,” had identified 34 canals.
The canals, stretching from Kalurghat Bridge to Naval Academy, had been found with their outlets flowing to the Karnaphuli.
Engineer Ali Ashraf, a Chittagong-based city planner, attributed the canal disappearances to mindless encroachment.
“Unfortunately, eight of the 22 existing canals are dying. The ones that have vanished can easily be reclaimed following a Revision Survey. These should be restored and the dying ones should be taken care of immediately to address the waterlogging problem,” he said.
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This April 2, 2017 file photo shows that soil has filled parts of Mirza Khal in Chandgaon, Chittagong city. Indiscriminate hill cutting causes soil to wash down with the rainwater and fill drains and nearby water bodies Rabin Chowdhury/Dhaka Tribune
Died out, grabbed canals worsen waterlogging
Unlike other cities in the country, Chittagong is gifted with a natural drainage system, having a long network of canals, to drain out storm water to the rivers and the Bay of Bengal.
However, nearly a third of the city goes underwater every monsoon while its southern part gets inundated during high tides even with no rainfall.
City planners blame unplanned urbanisation, illegal refilling and encroachment of canals and drains for obstructing the free flow of water.
All sorts of solid wastes worsen the situation, especially in the rainy season, they say.
Moreover, due to indiscriminate hill cutting in the city, soil is washed down with rainwater and fills drains and nearby water bodies, causing water stagnation.
According to the draft, major canals lost 42% carrying capacity due to siltation, with 87% of the existing silt traps being dysfunctional. Existing tertiary drains cover only 45% of the total drainage area.
“The proposed master plan does not concretely mention any reclaiming of the vanished canals,” lamented Ali Ashraf, and said that policymakers consider water congestion a transient problem, instead of a serious issue.
“The policymakers take up one plan after another, caring little for their implementation,” he alleged.
Architect Zarina Hossain said: “Open spaces, including the canals, used for retaining rainwater or storm water, are disappearing fast in the city. But the government agencies are failing to stop the building of illegal structures in these open spaces.”
Commodore Zulfiquar Aziz, member (engineering) of Chittagong Port Authority, said: “Even a light shower floods the city due to a lack of adequate water bodies necessary to retain storm water.
“Thus, the existing water bodies and open spaces should be preserved somehow,” he said.
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City planners blame unplanned urbanisation, illegal refilling, garbage accumulation, and encroachment of drains and canals, as is the case at Mirza Khal, for obstructing the free flow of water Rabin Chowdhury/Dhaka Tribune
The city mayor as well admitted that waterlogging in the city had taken a severe turn.
Addressing a programme on May 11, Chittagong City Corporation Mayor AJM Nasir Uddin said: “Illegal structures have been built over the years, eating up the canals. Moreover, the indiscriminate dumping of solid waste has also worsened the situation.”
Pinning the blame partially on unplanned urbanisation, he then bemoaned the fact that the master plan of Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) remained unimplemented even after 22 years as no mention was made of which organisation would execute it.
This master plan had been drafted in 1995 to develop the drainage system in five phases by 2015, but in vain.
Meanwhile, at a civic dialogue in May this year, Shahinul Islam, CDA chief town planner, said they often have to face pressure from the politicians when removing the illegal structures.
“The waterlogging problem will reduce significantly if the illegal structures are pulled down from the canals,” he said.