Vol. 5 Num 1076 Mon. June 11, 2007  
Front Page

Driving downpour deluges Dhaka

Rainfall of 103 millimetres in six hours paralysed the capital yesterday with the city's streets turned into virtual canals and passengers abandoning stranded vehicles to struggle through knee high waters on foot.

The met office reported that a cyclonic storm formed by a depression over the Bay of Bengal caused the heavy downpour and predicted further heavy rains in the next 24 hours.

The flooding again exposed the weakness of the capital's drainage and the half-hearted attempts to improve the system over decades.

The tales of chaos and disruption were repeated in many parts of the country, especially in the northern districts.

In Dhaka the rising water inundated houses and shops in several areas of the city inflicting heavy economic losses on business owners and leaving thousands of householders to mop up the damage.

Among those most seriously affected were office workers attempting to get to their jobs. Stuck in the gridlock caused by the flooded streets, thousands were forced to abandon buses and cars and plough through the inundated roads, often barefooted.

One office worker said it had taken him more than three hours to make the four kilometer journey from Dhamondi to Karwan Bazaar by car, a journey that normally takes 15-20 minutes. "It would have been quicker to get to Comilla. Hours of working time have been lost, there will be a heavy economic cost," he said.

Zunayed Ahmed, a resident of Raza Bazar area, said he found the road in front of his house submerged under water. "I found all roads up to the children's hospital in Shyamoli under water. Except for some high roads, the whole Mohammadpur area also seemed under water even at noon," he said.

The food and disaster management ministry asked the electronic media to broadcast special bulletins on the natural calamity and the government set up control rooms at all deputy commissioners' (DC) offices in the coastal belt, an area which usually bears the brunt of cyclones.

The flooding revealed the inadequacies of Dhaka's drainage system. Water and Sewerage Authority (Wasa) sources said the battered system can only cope with 10 millimetres (mm) of rainfall per hour and rainfall in excess of this means waterlogging is inevitable.

Different government agencies have spent around Tk 35 crore in the last five years to tackle the problem of waterlogging but have made only limited progress.

"Wasa undertook projects to improve the capacity of the drainage system but it could not increase the capacity due to faulty designs. So the drainage capacity remains the same," said Kazi Mohammed Shish, former chief engineer of Wasa.

"The storm sewerage was built only to drain out rainwater but now those are being used to drain out all sorts of liquid and solid waste," said Shish.

The storm water drainage system covers 150 square kilometres (sq km) of area, but to be effective it needs to cover at least 260 sq km, Wasa sources added.

Among the areas of the city worst affected were Mirpur, Bashabo, Goran, Azimpur, Dhaka University, Dhamondi, Minto Road, Press Club and High Court area, Maghbazar, Shantinagar, Mowchak and the old parts of the city.

"I saw furniture shops on Rokeya Sharani getting flooded and the contents soaked," said Shahnaz Parvin, who works for a private firm.

Nearly 10 lakh people inside Dhaka- Narayanganj-Demra (DND) embankment find themselves marooned by waterlogging every year during the monsoon. This year, residents of the areas near the DND embankment have already become marooned even though the monsoon has yet to begin in full.

In September 2004 the capital remained under water for a week in the wake of a torrent of 346 mm rainfall breaking a 50-year record.

Successive governments formed several committees to find out the reasons and remedies for repeated inundations. As part of the initiatives the local government ministry also undertook initiatives through Wasa and DCC to recover canals and other wetlands from the hands of encroachers, but the initiatives did not bring any fruitful result.

BSS reported that heavy rainfalls were recorded at most places of the northern districts all through the day yesterday causing waterlogging in both rural and urban areas.

Normal life remained paralysed at most places of Rangpur, Dinajpur, Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh, Joypurhat, Naogaon,

Bogra and the adjoining districts due to torrential showers between the afternoons of Saturday and yesterday.

All major rivers and their tributaries were getting heavy water flows caused by an onrush of water from the hills. Water Development Board (WDB) sources said water level in the Brahmaputra river rose by 25 centimetres (cm), Teesta rose by 20 cm, and Dharla 45 cm during the 24 hours preceding 6:00am yesterday.

Met office sources said heavy rainfalls within a short period of time are becoming a common phenomenon day by day due to a global climate change.

A vehicle tries to power through the stagnant water on Mirpur Road near Russell Square in the capital yesterday after hours of heavy rain in the morning. PHOTO: Syed Zakir Hossain