Vol. 5 Num 1137 Fri. August 10, 2007  

Flood control or controlled flood?

Loss of water holding and carrying capacity of the main rivers filled with silt was the main cause of devastating flood of 1998 in Bangladesh. Yearly sedimentation is about 2500 million tons and in the year 1998 it stood at 2630 million tons, volume of which is about 1000 million cubic metre. The average swelling of the river-beds of the first three sections of the undermentioned four main rivers is 33 cm.

1. Padma: From the entry point in Bangladesh (Downstream of Farakka) to Gualanda,

2. Jamuna: From the entry point in Bangladesh (Downstream of Rowmary) to Gualanda,

3. Joint flow of Padma-Jamuna in the name of Padma: From Gualanda to Chandpur,

4. Meghna: From the entry point in Bangladesh (Jakiganj) joint flow of Surma-Kushiara to Chandpur.

A severe flood does not occur due to the sedimentation of one year or two. Rather a severe flood is feared due to swelling of the river-bed by sedimentation and crossing of the critical limit by onrush of seasonal rain water. So it is evident that for controlling flood, the water holding and carrying capacity of rivers must be increased by dreging/digging the river-beds in a bid to hold substantial water in the channels.

The only feasible step in controlling flood is cutting and removing of 1000 million cubic metre of silt from the above mentioned rivers. Implementation of this is very tough considering its vastness. There is no alternative to digging of river-beds, but there are two options for it.

1. Conventional mechanical process i.e. with the help of dredger, and

2. With physical labour i.e. by spading.

For implementing the river digging plan with physical labour i.e. by spading, silt in 600 km river section of Padma, Jamuna and the joint flow of Padma-Jamuna should be removed in a year in the time-span of 1st February to 15th April. The silt should be removed in 500 metre wide and 3.3 metre deep layer by spading. For making channel 1000 cubic metre silt should be removed in a year. If this process is continued for several successive years, water causing flood may easily be stored in the channel. Apparently it seems to be impossible but it is possible with firm political commitment and determination. From the economic point of view the advantages of river-digging by physical labour are:

a) There is no need of foreign currency, approximately 23500 million taka may easily be arranged from internal sources;

b) Only spade and bamboo-basket are required, which may be procured locally;

c) Excessive expenditure may be controlled as the labour is mostly voluntary.

It is evident from experience that, head of the government stays at the centre point of any event. So as the head of the government honourable Chief Adviser should take the main initiative and seek the voluntary help from the nation for our existence explaining the importance and significance of the plan. Massive national awakening may take place due to the Chief-Adviser's appeal on river-digging plan. Participation of women folk in large number should be ensured. The nation will be getting continuous benefit from this in future.

Suez canal (108 mile long and 41 feet deep) and after that Panama canal were dug using spade about one hundred and forty years ago. If river-digging plan is implemented in Bangladesh, it will be the largest digging work in the history of human civilization. It will be the greatest organised human activity with far reaching economic and wellfare oriented results.

It is a bitter experience of the last several years that the earnings of many years through hard labour gets ruined due to the whimsical behaviour of the nature. A critical dimension of water of the river in the monsoon is responsible for the devastating flood. Infrastructures can be saved if the water of the river could be stored in the river channel. After digging, the excess soil can easily be used in different development works including embankment road construction.

If only 2.5 million freedom fighters could change the political map of the sub-continent and establish an independent Bangladesh with the blessings of the people, then 5 million flood control fighters can easily change the face of flood of this country. No doubt, they can do it. If this plan is implemented it will bear an immense economic value, it will have valuable historical and political impact.

Due to the geo-physical position of our country, total flood control is impossible indeed. So in Bangladesh development plans should not be made on the concept of "Flood-Control", rather the concept of "Controlled-Flood" should be given preference in implementing future infrastructural development plans.

Summary of the plan

  • Site: Padma, Jamuna and joint flow of Padma-Jamuna section up to Chandpur
  • Total length of the river-bed: 600 km.
  • Total volume of earth (silt): 1000 million cubic metre, (600 km x 500mx 3.3m)
  • Total Manpower: 5 million
  • Working period: 1st February-15th April = 75 days
  • Total food required: 1.125 million tons (wheat)
  • Price of 2 million set of spade and basket: 400 million taka, @ Taka 200/- per set
  • Price of total food: 22500 million Taka @ Taka 20,000/ ton
  • Incidential cost : 600 million taka
  • Total expenditure : 23500 million taka or 335 million US $ (Sl Nos 7+8+9)

Md Zafar Sadeque is Asst Professor (Agriculture Studies), Atghoria College, Pabna