Vol. 5 Num 400 Tue. July 12, 2005  
Front Page

Dhaka to see severe flooding unless canal filling stopped
Chair of UN's Disaster and Emergency Response Group tells The Daily Star

The United Nations' group responsible for responding to any disaster and emergency needs in Bangladesh has warned that a severe flooding could hit Dhaka in near future unless the filling up of canals and lagoons is stopped immediately.

"Last week's waterlogging in Dhaka when catfish swam to the government's citadel (Bangladesh Secretariat) should be a wake-up call for Bangladesh," said Douglas Casson Coutts, chair of the Disaster and Emergency Response (DER) Group in Dhaka.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Douglas said, "Why should an early monsoon rainfall in the month of June or even in early July inundate the nation's capital this way?"

Douglas described the waterlogging in Dhaka as an obvious result of filling up of whatever remaining water bodies and construction of illegal structures on water outlets, faulty drainage system and in a nutshell, "bad water management in the city."

Preferring not to comment on politically linked goons' illegal occupation of free-flow water bodies and water retention canals and lagoons, the DER Group chief said, "Political commitment is a must to get things right. Otherwise, Dhaka runs the risk of experiencing severe flooding even when rest of the country remains out of danger."

Douglas, who also served for last three years as the World Food Programme's (WFP) Country Representative in Bangladesh, went on to add his personal experience: "I've seen how the Gulshan Lake shrank over the last three years."

"Rainwater has to go somewhere. If all the lakes in the city like the ones at Gulshan and Banani get narrowed down and if drains are clogged how do we expect Dhaka to escape the waterlogging? These are man-made problems," asserted Douglas who is leaving Bangladesh later this week to take up his next assignment in Washington DC.

Heavy monsoon downpour on July 3 caused acute waterlogging and chaos in traffic across the capital, disrupting business and paralysing public life. Most parts of Motijheel, Demra, Sabujbagh, Bijoynagar, Azimpur, Jigatala, Mirpur-10 Circle to Sheorapara, Khilgaon, Malibagh, Mouchak, Shantinagar, Kakrail, Moghbazar, Shahbagh, New Market, Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur, Secretariat and Farmgate reeled under ankle-to-knee-deep water for hours on end.

On the seasonal food-insecurity problem of Monga in northern Bangladesh, the DER Group chair pointed out that farm labourers, mostly landless, are forced to mortgage their labour (advance selling of labour, known as dadan) in one-third of their normal wage rate and later they starve. "Expansion of food-for-work programme during Monga period could be a good intervention to deal with the problem," Douglas suggested.

The WFP Country Representative acknowledged that though the UN body in cooperation with multilateral and bilateral donors are putting in the best efforts in the form of VGD (vulnerable group development) to help the poor, particularly women, some 25 million people in Bangladesh are still living in ultra-poverty situation.

"These ultra-poor earn less than a dollar and partake less than 1805 kilo calories a day," he said, stressing the need for further expansion of the VGD approach to better intervene into the hardly-hit poverty situation.

Despite the dwindling food aid scenario, the outgoing WFP country representative thinks, Bangladesh can still fare well in addressing the vast poverty and malnutrition problems by further expanding programmes aided by food, coming from other sources -- from bilateral donors and from the government's own stock.

I agree with you that food aid from multilateral donors is on the wane, the food aid amount from the bilateral donors remained almost static and Bangladesh's own food contribution is on the rise as the country is being able to grow more grains now than it did previously," said Douglas.