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OP-ED: What will you do if your country sinks by then?

  • Published at 08:46 pm July 22nd, 2020
flood
Photo: REUTERS

This is no country for Banbhashi people

When I first arrived in the US for my undergraduate education, I used to tutor to make ends meet. At the place (Tutoring Club of McLean) I tutored, there was a visual map of the world and in the place of Bangladesh, there were icons of typhoons and floods.

Sadly, that still remains the icon of our country. We still see floods every year and have taken them for granted. And in this year of corona, flooding has come as a dugna abhishaap.

Bangladesh is a low-lying country. This means that it would be the first hit country by global warming. And every year, we see evidence of that, but we seem to be recalcitrant.

And in this year, amid this corona crisis, people in Kurigram are left inundated, wading through knee-deep floodwater, as reported in Dhaka Tribune. And moreover, the Bangladesh Meteorological Department predicts heavy rains for days to come. The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that half of Bangladesh will be affected by worsening floods in the coming days.

The Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) and Flood Forecast and Warning Centre (FFWC) have echoed the concerns voiced in OCHA’s situation report on Asia Pacific humanitarian efforts on July 17. Both BMD and the FFWC predict heavy rains in the next few days. Which means worse days are coming for the poorest of the poor.

The capital, Dhaka, does not seem out of this crisis either. Some areas of Dhaka, near Badda, have already become flooded. FFWC says the flood waters came through canals and sewerage lines of the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (Dhaka WASA) that are connected to surrounding rivers. 

But we know the conditions of those rivers. It is almost impossible to even touch the water in the rivers. 

Six districts are still reeling from previous floods. Many districts including Kurigram, Jamalpur, Tangail, Madaripur, and Pabna are also still flooded. Hundreds of houses, roads, schools, and colleges have been submerged, and people affected by the floods are suffering a shortage of drinking water, food, and sanitation facilities.

The WDB has been dumping geo-bags to prevent river erosion, he added. But how much can geo-bags and river banking do in the face of global climate change?

The movement of heavy vehicles through Atrai-Naogaon, Atrai-Bandhaikhara, Atrai-Kaliganj, and Atrai-Singra has been suspended temporarily by the authorities.

Many villagers have already left their homes and are living in temporary shelters or wrapped in polythene on government roads, dykes, and in other safe places with their livestock and essentials.

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief has not yet opened any shelters in Lalmonirhat, Rangpur, Tangail, and Rajbari, although all these districts have been affected by the floods.  

Shah Muhammad Nasim, additional secretary (NDRCC and media), Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said: “In some districts, the flooding is not severe and people in those districts do not want to go to shelters as they have cattle and other valuables at their homes. The government will arrange shelters if needed.” 

We have seen these steps before. Throwing balur bosta as river embankments only works so much. We need a long-term comprehensive change to tackle river erosion and climate change.

I will end with another anecdote. My philosophy professor and friend Dr Charles Verharen used to ask me: “You want to be the president of your country, that’s good. But what if it sinks by the time you finish studying?”

With the amount of studying ahead of me (a JD and a PhD), I am really worried about his remarks right now. What if his prophecy comes true? What if there is no Bangladesh by the time I finish my education?

This worries me, and this should worry us all a lot. 

Anupam Debashis Roy is the editor and organizer of Muktiforum. His new book School of Superman is coming out in the next months.

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