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Don’t drink the water

  • Published at 12:04 am October 6th, 2019
Is this what development looks like? DHAKA TRIBUNE

Why our water-logging problem never gets solved

Few things are quite as beautiful as rain pouring down on God’s green earth. But the city of Dhaka, through the administration’s corruption, incompetence, and neglect, has ruined this simplest of pleasures.

Because in this monster of a capital city, rain equals water-logging, water-logging equals immeasurable pain and misery for those who live here.

Many within the government will try to give a feeble defense of the matter, claiming that flooding and water-logging simply happen due to the heavy rainfall we get in this country.

Sometimes the point is raised that even developed countries experience surreal levels of flooding from time to time; just look at pictures of Houston, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. In a typical recourse to whataboutism, they will say: If one of the richest and most developed cities in the US can get hit so badly, why blame Dhaka?

Are we not, they will argue, doing the best we can, with the resources that we have?

But the answer is no, and the abovementioned excuse is a lot of hot air -- a fugazi argument, so to speak. Here’s why.

A hurricane or typhoon or some kind of once-in-a-lifetime weather disaster is not needed to cause apocalyptic levels of flooding in our capital. A moderate amount of rainfall will do the trick. In fact, there are roads and alleyways in Dhaka which appear flooded even on days without any rain whatsoever.

Floodings in Bangladesh, then, are not rare happenings that catch us off-guard, but a perfectly predictable part of our everyday life. This did not need to be the case. Our water-logging problem comes down to our abysmal city planning, much of it stemming from corruption. 

We are a low-lying nation of canals and floodplains -- bodies which should be taking up any excess water. But greed is more powerful than common sense, and people with money and political muscle have grabbed these areas and filled them up without any sense of proper planning. The rainwater has nowhere else to go.

Then, of course, there is the issue of our faulty and medieval drainage system, which causes areas to become flooded with sewage even when there is no rain. Rampant littering -- frequently in the form of plastic -- is the main culprit behind clogging up the drains, which frequently overflows onto the streets.

Furthermore, sewer pipes need to be connected to other drains or pipes for the system to work as a whole, and that is not the case in Dhaka. The result of this muck-up is sewage making its way into our rivers. This has been happening for a long time, and partly explains the sorry state of our rivers.

Year after year, citizens are told that a hefty sum of money is being allocated for the improvement in urban infrastructure. Much of it goes towards improving our drainage system. And yet, the results are only heard about, never seen.

Where exactly all this public money is going is a question worth asking. And going back to the issue of grabbed land and the criminals who build their monstrosities on places that nature designated for water -- are they being punished? We have been told that no wrongdoers will go unpunished, regardless of their level of political influence. Does that only apply to those whose influence doesn’t gel well with the authorities?

How do you begin to fix a problem when the main players are rotten to the core?

Dhaka’s two city corporations both have exemplary records of failure: They failed to prevent the dengue epidemic, they failed to fix the public transportation problem, and there is no doubt that they are failing to address the water-logging problem to anyone’s satisfaction. 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.