Bangladesh is a flood-prone country. There’s no getting around that fact. That’s what happens when most of a country’s land is low-lying delta plains.
Recently, people living in the north and north-east of Bangladesh have been hit hard as several flood protection embankments in those districts broke down. What’s worse is that rail communications in the affected areas have been suspended for the time being due to flood damage at several points.
The inadequate government relief and general food crisis have only compounded their woes.
Bangladesh has bitter experience in facing devastating floods. With six major floods recorded in the 19th century (1842, 1858, 1871, 1875, 1885, and 1892), and 18 major floods in the 20th century so far.
What causes floods?
Global warming, a lack of vegetation, deforestation, heavy rain, erratic climate change, poor drainage systems, unplanned building structure, poor urbanisation, outdated canals and reservoirs, and unwise industrial activities are some of the core causes of floods in Bangladesh.
In addition, snow melting from the Himalayas in the late spring and summer, building of dams in India, and poorly-maintained embankments are also significant causes of flood disasters in Bangladesh.
The main objective of FAP is to save lives and livelihood of the flood affected people, improve agro-ecological conditions, enhance public facilities, and minimise potential flood damage
According to the International Farakka Committee (IFC), the unsustainable river management system is liable for excessive floods, and acute water scarcity is faced by Bangladesh during the rainy and dry seasons. Therefore, they advise keeping the common Himalayan rivers alive through basin-integrated management on the basis of regional cooperation so that people in different countries living along those river banks can benefit from their services.
Other experts emphasise that 92% of the flood water comes from the upper catchments of the common rivers while the other 8% is from local rainfall and streams from hills. The unplanned construction of a series of dams and barrages at the upper catchments of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna are the prime reasons behind many small rivers drying up in the sub-continent.
The role of Flood Action Plan
The Flood Action Plan was established by the government based on several studies conducted by UNDP, a French engineering consortium, USAID, and JICA. The FAP included 29 different components, of which 11 were regional with some pilot projects, and the rest were supporting studies on issues like flood modelling, flood proofing, flood response, environment, fisheries, socio-economic studies, etc.
FAP has taken an initiative to find out the causes and the nature of floods in Bangladesh and to also develop strategic guidelines, programs, and projects for controlling it.
But the main objective of FAP is to save lives and livelihoods of the flood affected people, improve agro-ecological conditions to increase crop production, enhance public facilities, and also to minimise potential flood damage.
Therefore, FAP is to set the foundation of a long-term program for achieving a permanent and comprehensive solution to the flood problem.
But can the government be successful in providing sufficient relief to flood-affected people with its limited resources?
There is still hope
Authorities can play a realistic role so that unscrupulous traders do not take advantage of people’s miseries. Emergency preparedness for the health care system has to be given emphasis, especially in the rural regions.
In addition to relief, short-term and long-term initiatives need to be taken immediately to reduce further problems and provide them with necessary supplies and arrange for post-flood relief.
This flood season may possibly be the worst we have faced in the last four decades, in times like this we must understand that combating flood is not an easy feat to accomplish -- it takes a long time and a lot of effort.
For now, we need to understand that we cannot fully prevent or redirect it but can only attempt to minimise the detrimental effects of floods by immediately adopting pragmatic preventive measures.
Rana Dutta is the Assistant Deputy Secretary, BKMEA.