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     Volume 4 Issue 8 | August 13, 2004 |

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Apathy that Worsens Disaster

Imran H. Khan

This year's flood is by far one of the worst ones since 1998, where more than 700 people were killed and 21 million homes were washed away. The flood of the new millennium has also left millions homeless. The worst flood-hit places still have chest-high water. Now the floodwater is receding, but at a snail's pace because the water has nowhere to go and in this aquatic hell, various forms of water borne diseases are affecting people by the thousands. Diarrhoea, a seasonal illness, has reached epidemic proportions all over the country, especially in the flood-hit areas. The Health Directorate has recorded over 9000 diarrhoea patients in 38 districts. Fifty-six people have died since July 12.

Most of the people have taken refuge in flood-shelters while other unfortunate ones have taken to the footpaths and alleys to build up temporary abode for their near and dear ones. The sufferings of these people are unbearable because they not only lack shelter, but are hungry and in dire need of medical attention. Even though the government is well aware of what is happening, relief seems slow and aid that is being distributed is insufficient to meet the demands of the flood affected.

The rivers and lakes in and around Dhaka city are still above the normal level and most of the dwellers around these rivers and lakes are living either on the road or on top of their roofs. For the young street urchins who try to make the best of a bad situation, it is normal for them to play in the water. But the water that surrounds them is toxic, a dark blue in shade, topped with a layer of garbage and swelling sewerage. The accompanying smell too is overwhelmingly strong only adding to the sense of ill being.

The government claims that it is doing its best to keep the situation under control. Not that breaking a dam or two is of much help. On the issue of food, an estimated 30 million people need food aid for about five months, mostly because the agricultural fields have been submerged in water and the next paddy harvest will not be ready for at least five more months. Food and Disaster Management Minister Chowdhury Kamal Ibne Yousuf said, "I can assure you that nobody would starve or die from shortage of food. We have enough stocks and we have allocated those accordingly." (The Daily Star) In the following days, news reports revealed that the people were rejecting food aid because the items were rotten and substandard.

A Prothom Alo report reveals that in Moghbazar and some other places, WASA staff broke some surface lines while they were digging storm sewerage lines. Also in Dhaka city alone, thousands of surface lines have been blocked or have become redundant. While the authorities are aware that these lines are vital for clearing the neighbourhood from wasted water and sewerage, little attention is given to their maintenance. For the 'betterment' of our utility services, the government authorises regular digging up of waterlines and deep-water reservoirs. This consistent probing usually leads to faulty lines that sometimes find their way to the drinking water line, contaminating it. Such is the reality in many places where the water from the tap is noxious. Also in these lines are discarded polythene and debris, blocking most of the outflow. Could this be the reason why the water has nowhere to go? Canals that allow the rain water to seep to the bay have been filled to make room for this bustling metropolis. Rivers and lakes are being encroached on a daily basis causing further water logging. Sewerage water is not being pumped out properly, clogging up lines and sometimes resulting in sewer water on the main roads. The government soon sends its people to clear up the 'faulty' drainage and they are seen to pump out even more sewerage onto the roads. One problem is solved but what about the repercussions?

People are forced to walk through garbage-topped water and swelling sewerage to lead their daily lives

Last June in Fakirapur the box-culvert had been cleaned to allow the water to pass but the clearing operation found a few tons of polythene. This 6 km box-culvert from Shegunbagicha to Shahjhanpur is estimated to have hundreds of tons of polythene. It's very easy to make decisions on the spur of the moment but until and unless the repercussions are dealt with accordingly, problems will compound. It is obvious that we have taken few lessons from past catastrophes. Unless we start to learn and enforce proper prevention mechanisms floods will continue to be more devastating than necessary.



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