A number of districts in the north, north-east and hill regions of the country are in grip of severe floods amid continued downpour and onrush of upstream water from neighbouring India. Most of the major rivers are flowing above the danger levels. Thousands of people in Lalmonirhat, Gaibandha, Bogura, Sylhet, Sunamganj, Netrokona, Bandarban, Cox's Bazar and Nilphamari and a few other districts have been marooned and forced to leave their homes and belongings.
Besides the rising of river water, river erosion has taken a serious turn in many areas and thus many fresh areas are being inundated and many people displaced from their homes every day. According to the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre projection, the flood situation will worsen in the next few days as rivers would swell even further, inundating new areas.
It appears that recurrent flooding has become an unwritten destiny to Bangladesh. Every year the monsoon comes, the country has to encounter severe flooding in some areas or others. Oftentimes, a vast majority of the population has to count massive loss - both in terms of life and property. One must have not forgotten that a good number of northern and north-eastern districts had been hit by flooding twice or even thrice in the last year.
The lingering flooding had washed away fish and livestock, and caused huge damage to crops and water control embankments. Since back to back floods had given a big blow to the country's rice production, the government was compelled to float tenders to import rice in order to keep the market stable. We saw how the country that had been enjoying self-sufficiency in rice production over the previous few years had fallen on difficult times due to recurrent flooding last year.
Analysing this year's weather pattern, weathermen and researchers have expressed their apprehension that more and massive floods may hit the country. It is very much obvious that prolonged flooding will not only hamper rice production but also interrupt the production of other crops and vegetables seriously. Thus, the whole of the country's food security may be put at stake. And this prediction carries an ominous signal for the country. It calls for all-out and well-coordinated preparedness from all quarters concerned.
However, one feels that necessary measures must be taken to mitigate the woes of the people who have been affected already. It is disturbing to note that with floodwaters all around, poor people having no food to eat and others with no firewood to cook, flood-hit people staying in makeshift shelters or on river embankments are passing their days in indescribable misery.
Moreover, that there is hardly any source of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, the risk of a spread of waterborne diseases, like cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, and skin diseases is always there. Therefore, the thousands of flood-affected families are badly in need of emergency relief. Preventive measures need to be taken to check the spread of waterborne diseases as well.
Not to say, the government has to take the lead to expedite relief operations but individuals and non-government organisations must also come forward stretching their helping hands towards the suffering people. But, we are observing to our deepest consternation that people in our society have become so much self-centred that others' agony does not touch them. It might also be that they feel the government is there to look after its people.
One feels we must come of this kind of self-centredness. We must remember that collective efforts made by people of all spheres make even a gigantic problem look very simple and easy to triumph over.
This was about what can be done in the present crisis. But, as we have already mentioned, there is prediction for further and more devastating flood this year, preparatory measures must also be taken for that as well.
We know Bangladesh is world's one of the most susceptible countries to flood as seventy per cent of its land area is less than one metre above sea level and 10 per cent is made up of water bodies and rivers. Heavy rains during monsoon and rains brought by tropical storms cause flood in Bangladesh.
However, some other manmade causes like deforestation in Nepal and the Himalayas, human settlements in the flood-prone areas, rise in sea-level due to global warming have increased the country's susceptibility to flooding. Building of barrage by the upper riparian India is also a thorny problem for Bangladesh.
What is more, we ourselves cannot deny our responsibility for the present situation. That the severity of flooding has increased in recent times is a corollary of our longstanding negligence. We have let our water bodies and rivers go in the grabs of illegal encroachers. A huge amount of our water bodies and rivers have been filled in the name of urbanisation. Besides, illegal sand-lifting from the rivers has been excessive but unabated.
Despite being aware of the fact that instream sand-mining lowers the stream bottom, which may lead to various problems including bank erosion, the administration has seemingly turned a blind eye to this matter of grave concern. As a result of this laxity of both the people and the government, the entire fluvial geomorphology has been seriously affected, severely impacting the navigability of the rivers and canals, which has eventually brought in the present situation.
This is not beyond our understanding that had the water bodies and rivers had enough navigability and water preserving capacity, flood situations had not turned so severe.
But it is never too late to start any good initiative. We know unlike most other natural calamities flood has a high degree of predictability. Flood-prone areas are quite known - in the sense that they have a history of flooding. So, it is easier to take preparatory measures to tackle this disaster when compared to many other natural disasters. But for that purpose, the government must craft out and implement some short-term and long-term strategies.
The strategies the government takes up to deal with the problem have to be down to earth. This is very much necessary for developing a sustainable flood management system.
One important part of that flood management system might be that the government identifies unpopulated areas to divert flood water to protect urban and populated areas. Besides, dams and embankments must be constructed at strategic points and those damaged should be repaired. Flood-prone areas can also be converted into wetlands where urbanisation and building of residential houses will be prohibited.
The writer is a journalist.
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