a couple of weeks since Dhakaites recovered from a prolonged
flood, another rain-borne flood hit Dhaka on September 13.
The three-day long heavy shower caused serious waterlogging
in the city, yet again. For three days, life came to a virtual
standstill. People were forced into self-imprisonment, business
came to a halt, and acute crisis of drinking water made life
unbearable. Waterlogging, once thought to be a problem only
for a few low-lying areas in Dhaka, has suddenly threatened
to become a regular event in the rainy season. Could this
waterlogging have been avoided? What can we do to protect
Dhaka from getting waterlogged in the future?
Hossain, a teacher at a private university, was surprised
as he stood at the main gate of his residence in Gopibagh
on the morning of September 13. The entire alley in front
of his house was under ankle-high water. It had been raining
since the previous day but he never thought it could drown
the road. There weren't any rickshaws in sight. He folded
the ends of his trousers, took his shoes in his hand and waded
through the waters. His surprise increased when he saw that
the main road was also drowned. It took him 15 minutes before
he could get hold of a rickshaw. The rickshaw puller demanded
Tk 20, three times higher than the usual fare, but he didn't
have any option.
downpour continued throughout the day and by the afternoon
most of the low lying areas in Dhaka were under water. Since
the day coincided with Shab-e-meraj, a general holiday for
the educational institutions, school-going children and their
parents were saved. But, thousands of people returning home
from their workplace found themselves stranded. There weren't
any buses or cabs or baby taxis -- all sorts of motor vehicles
had fled the streets, because, the engines could stop functioning
if they came into contact with water. The only modes of transport
that could be seen were rickshaws.
even the number of rickshaws was negligible. In Motijheel
commercial area hundreds of homebound people could be seen
standing in knee-deep water. Rickshaw-pullers, suddenly discovering
that the demand was many times higher than the supply, were
asking for inflated fares. Many chose to walk home, but women
and those who lived in far off places, were forced to comply
with the rickshaw-puller's demands. Farzana Karim, who works
at Mercantile Bank in Motijheel branch, had to pay Tk. 140
to go to Hatirpool from Motijheel.
was not the only trouble though. When Anwar returned home
at around 7 pm, he could not believe his eyes. The rapidly
advancing water was only a few inches away from their reserve
tank. "Water didn't come this far even during the flood,"
he exclaims. He called a carpenter and quickly got a one-foot
wall installed surrounding the reserve tank.
wasn't as alert as Anwar. Rainwater mixed with sewage water
coming out from the manholes intruded upon a large number
of reserve tanks in Old Dhaka. "We had to come all the
way from Gandaria to Motijheel to buy from WASA. My younger
brother and I hired a van, filled up two huge drums and brought
them home. It took us hours as our van had to advance avoiding
potholes and drains hiding under the cover of water,"
forced to move to their relatives' homes. "It didn't
help much though. My office is in Motijheel, so I had to come
all the way from Dhanmondi to Motijheel," says Shariful
Hasan, who, along with his family members had to move from
Hatkhola to Dhanmondi to stay with relatives. "We couldn't
sleep at night thinking our home, which we had left absolutely
empty, could be looted," Hasan adds.
were even more serious problems. Twenty-five water pumps for
raising water had gone under water causing major disruptions
in the water supply. Most of WASA's 45 pumps for clearing
out logged water from the city were found out of order when
they were needed the most. The strong wind accompanying heavy
rains tore apart many electricity lines disrupting power supply
in many areas. Many of the transformers had blownup. As water
crept into the electricity sub-station inside the Secretariat,
there wasn't any power for almost the entire day of September
13. An electricity tower of the Hasnabad-Kallyanpur 132 KV
transmission line at Keraniganj collapsed on the 13th resulting
in the power disruption in Mirpur, Kallyanpur, Kazipara, Shewrapara,
Agargaon, Jhikatola, Shyamoli and Adabor areas.
who usually take the VIP road were in for a shock. Most of
it was completely flooded, including the part of the road
outside the PM's office. All the traffic had to be redirected
through Tejgaon, causing horrendous jams. Many roads of Gulshan
became inaccessible. Residents of Basundhara and Gulshan reported
having to deal with poisonous snakes creeping into the compounds
from the overflowing water-bodies.
is increasingly becoming a soft target of all sorts of natural
calamity. As the recent rain-borne flood literally paralysed
Dhaka for three days, the city dwellers sat helpless. Various
government agencies were of little help and preferred to wait
for Nature to show mercy on the city. But was there nothing
we could have done to prevent this latest disaster? Why does
a mega-city like Dhaka get waterlogged in the first place?
one thing, Dhaka simply doesn't have a proper drainage and
sewerage infrastructure. The city, moreover, is expanding
both horizontally and vertically at an uncontrollable pace,
along with its population. In comparison, the drainage and
sewerage facilities have grown little over the years. WASA
has 8 kilometres of box culvert, 225 kilometres of storm sewer
line (large round underground drains) and 1100 kilometres
of surface drain, which covers only 38 percent of the city
existing facilities cannot operate at full capacity because
of ill maintenance. DCC and WASA, both government bodies supposedly
responsible for protecting Dhaka from waterlogging, are busy
blaming each other for the crisis. According to DCC, the principal
responsibility of solving the waterlogging rests on WASA.
Clearing the surface drain is DCC's duty while WASA deals
with underground drains. Since WASA has not been clearing
the underground drains for a long time water through these
clogged drains cannot pass at its normal pace. Dhaka WASA
has shifted the blame on the record breaking rains in 50 years.
They however, stated that DCC was responsible for not clearing
the surface drains properly, which, WASA officials believes,
further worsened the situation. The feuding between the two
illustrates what is missing -- co-operation among the various
service providing agencies.
DCC and WASA are guilty of negligence and inefficiency, a
lack of civic sense among a large section of city dwellers
also contributes to exacerbating the situation. All sorts
of solid wastes gathered from households, restaurants and
other establishments are often thrown into the drains blocking
the flow of wastewaters. Again those with houses just beside
the road often build shops in such a way that the drain gets
primary culprit is the messy and inadequate drainage system.
A proper drainage system does not mean a few sewerage lines
and drains only; it means building up a network that interconnects
drains and sewerage lines with the natural water-bodies such
as ponds, lakes and canals. Unfortunately, Dhaka, which once
used to be dotted with some two dozen ponds, canals and lakes,
has been bereft of those water-bodies by the city's unplanned,
wholesale urbanisation in the last two decades. Numerous high
rise buildings have suddenly sprung up all over the city,
all sorts of natural water reservoirs both inside Dhaka and
on its suburbs have been quickly filled up by developers.
The lakes, once large and healthy, have shrunk and grown sickly
by indiscriminate encroachment of the land grabbers. The consequence
of such indiscriminate construction is right before our eyes.
A few hours of rain inundate many of the city streets and
during floods the entire low-lying areas of Dhaka go under
water for days on end. If water bodies had still been around
they could have easily contained the extra volume of water
that might have invaded the city because of floods or excessive
Bhuiyan, Chief Engineer, Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre,
lists some of the natural water reservoirs that have vanished
from Dhaka's map and the areas which have been suffering from
waterlogging as a consequence of that usurpation. The encroachment
on Katasur canal causes water logging in Rayerbazar and Mohammadpur
areas. Filling up Ramchandrapur canal is responsible for waterlogging
in Islambagh, Nawabgonj and Hazaribagh. A more than 30 metre
wide open canal in the southern part of Dhaka, Dholai Khal,
was filled up and a 2.5 metre by 2.5 metre box culvert was
installed in its place. Narrowing the canal has led to water-logging
in BUET, Bakhsibazar, Hosnidalan, Nimtali, Nazimuddin Road,
Bangshal, Aga Sadek Road, Gandaria, Postogola, and Faridabad
areas. Encroachment on Segunbagicha Khal at Maniknagar and
Manda causes waterlogging in Shantinagar, Inner Circular and
Middle Circular Roads, Arambagh, Fakirapul, Gulisthan Zero
Point, Motijheel, Dilkusha and Saidabad areas.
of the Jirani Khal and choking up of the Shajahanpurt Khal
are responsible for waterlogging in Malibagh, Mouchak and
Shantibagh areas. Infringement on Shahjadpur Khal prevents
flushing out of rainwater and wastewater from Kuril, Pragati
Sarani and adjacent areas. Filling up a large portion of Begunbari
Khal has resulted in waterlogging in Tejgaon, Gulshan 1 and
Mohakhali areas. Encroachment on Mohakhali Khal is causing
water logging in Nakhalpara, Arjatpara, Rasulbagh and Shahinbagh.
The Kalyanpur pump regulating pond of the water supply agency
has been filled up, causing waterlogging in Taltala, Agargaon,
Kazipara, Shewrapara, Barabagh, Mirpur Section 1 and adjacent
areas. Encroachment on Ibrahimpur Khal and filling up of Diabari
Khal by the developers are responsible for creating water
logging in Uttara and Banani.
all this has been happening right under the nose of RAJUK
(Rajdhani Unnayan Katripakkha), the government agency entrusted
with the job of giving approval of any sort of buildings in
Dhaka. Now, why RAJUK has been approving the housing projects
by filling up wetlands is no mystery. "Sometimes developers
make two plans, one for getting the approval of RAJUK and
another one, which they originally implement," Bhuiyan
says. RAJUK, which is supposed to monitor if the approved
plan is being followed, is either neglecting their job, or
just keeping their eyes shut for reasons known to all. "Most
surprisingly, besides private developers, RAJUK itself is
filling up wetlands and the peripheral low lying areas,"
reveals ANH Akhtar Hossain, Managing Director, WASA.
has also grown into a concrete jungle, without very little
greenery. There is hardly any soil left in the city. So when
there is water either because of floods or heavy showers,
it cannot seep into the ground. Consequently, rain water or
floodwater takes longer to recede. This is also another reason
why the water level in Dhaka is going further down.
mentions another reason that makes the waterlogging situation
still worse. There is a tendency to raise the city streets
to save them from getting water logged. "What they don't
seem to understand is, if water cannot stay on the streets
it will then get into the houses more quickly than before,"
he explains. There has to be an outlet to clear away the water
and for that drains have to be made spacious and they have
to be kept clean, he points out.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004