As monsoon nears, no end to Dhaka waterlogging in sight

  • >> Obaidur Masum and Kazi Mobarak Hossain, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-06-09 22:52:47 BdST

For residents of Dhaka, the monsoon has become less about enjoying a refreshing respite from the summer heat and more about trudging through flooded streets after each drenching downpour. This has been the case for several years now, and it will not change anytime soon, not this year at least.

The first day of June brought 85 mm of rain to Dhaka, flooding many areas. And the monsoon has not even arrived.

There is no quick solution to the waterlogging problem, say urban planners and the mayors of Dhaka North and Dhaka South.

Office-goers faced a difficult commute after heavy rains on Saturday morning caused waterlogging on the streets of Kazipara in Dhaka's Mirpur on Jun 5, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Office-goers faced a difficult commute after heavy rains on Saturday morning caused waterlogging on the streets of Kazipara in Dhaka's Mirpur on Jun 5, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Many had blamed a lack of coordination between the utilities for the longstanding issue, which is why the government transferred the responsibility of removing rainwater from WASA to the two city corporations.

An agreement was reached on Dec 31 last year and the official handover took place on Jan 4.

The city corporations are now responsible for overseeing Dhaka’s canals and some 360 km of drainage canals. The two city corporations had already been overseeing 2,300 km of drainage systems in the area.

Sudden and heavy rains left Dhaka’s Green Road in inundated on Saturday, Jun 5, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Sudden and heavy rains left Dhaka’s Green Road in inundated on Saturday, Jun 5, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

WHEN WILL RESULTS SHOW?

Expecting a major issue to be resolved within five months is unrealistic. But asked how soon results could be expected, both Dhaka mayors indicated it would take quite some time.

Urban planners say the longstanding waterlogging issue is due to the unplanned way the capital has grown over the years and so there is little chance of a quick fix. Both mayors will have to face a host of challenges, they say.

The rain on Jun 1 led to waterlogging in Mirpur 10, Kazipara, Mirpur 13, Mirpur 1, Pirerbag, parts of Banani, Mohakhali’s Chairmanbari and several parts of Uttara within the boundaries of Dhaka North City Corporation, or DNCC. It also caused waterlogging in Dhanmondi, Tejturibazar, Green Road, Kazi Alauddin Road, Malibagh and some other parts of the Dhaka South City Corporation, or DSCC.

Dhaka residents will have to wait at least another two years to be free of the waterlogging problem, according to DSCC Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh.

Much of Dhaka’s infrastructure is unplanned, the mayor said, and the locations of as many as 65 canals that played a pivotal role in draining water from the metropolis are currently unknown. The unplanned box culverts Dhaka WASA had built are doing little to help.

Heavy rainfall on Tuesday morning waterlogs Mirpur Road near Dhanmondi 27. The Meteorological Department recorded 85 mm of rain between 6 am and 9 am in Dhaka.

Heavy rainfall on Tuesday morning waterlogs Mirpur Road near Dhanmondi 27. The Meteorological Department recorded 85 mm of rain between 6 am and 9 am in Dhaka.

The city corporation has identified 31 areas prone to waterlogging and has spent nearly Tk 1.05 billion on building infrastructure to handle the problem, most of which are nearing completion, Taposh said. The DSCC is also working to bring 55 sluice gates from the Water Development Board under its purview. It is also restoring broken pumps and buying 30 new ones.

“The Dhaka South City Corporation has begun removing wastes and sediments from canals in Zirani, Manda, Shyampur, Kalunagar and the box culverts in Panthapath and Segunbagicha since Jan 2,” he said. “We’ve already withdrawn 800,000 tonnes of waste from these places”

“We also took over two waste-water pumping stations from WASA. Each of them has three pumping machines. We’ve been able to reactivate one machine at Kamalapur station and two others at Dholaikhal station. Efforts to activate the remaining three machines are underway. We have also cleaned out 185 km of sewers we took over from WASA and the work scheduled to finish in June.”

The DSCC mayor said waterlogging could not be alleviated if the city corporation did not get control of the Water Development Board’s sluice gates.

Vehicles move through knee-deep water on Green Road in Dhaka after hours of incessant rains on Tuesday, Jun 1, 2021.

Vehicles move through knee-deep water on Green Road in Dhaka after hours of incessant rains on Tuesday, Jun 1, 2021.

“In the meantime, we’ve called for a tender to reactivate all the inactive sluice gates on our own in consideration of the hardship faced by the people, and have also started an initiative to purchase 30 mobile pumping machines.”

The mayor said that the areas of the capital waterlogged after rain on Jun 1 and Jun 5 will be prioritised in future work plans.

“Our goal is to ensure that there is no waterlogging in Dhaka after regular rainfall, and to drain water within an hour of medium rain, two hours for heavy rain and three hours for extremely heavy rain.”

DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam said a list had been made of the areas affected by waterlogging after the rain on Jun 1. The list has identified six areas as hotspots and 103 locations in those areas where work will commence.

The process of fixing the waterlogging issue should have started long ago, he said.

The street outside Sayedabad Bus Terminal in Dhaka goes under water after incessant rains for hours on Tuesday, Jun 1, 2021.

The street outside Sayedabad Bus Terminal in Dhaka goes under water after incessant rains for hours on Tuesday, Jun 1, 2021.

“Dhaka is now a city of concrete and its canals have been occupied. There is nowhere in the city for the rainwater to go. We must restore the canals, otherwise the water will be stuck.”

“The DNCC is working to clean canals and drainage channels. We are also trying to restore old canals. But this cannot be solved by just talking about it. We must do the work and show results. I believe everyone has to work together. The city corporation will continue its efforts, but others must also stand by us. To me, the biggest challenge is setting clear boundaries for canals. There will be a major fund in this budget to set these boundaries.”

The mayor added that he believed the water drainage situation had improved somewhat.

“Sometimes the water would stick around for three to four days, now it’s down to about three hours. We want to reduce this time further. Next year the situation will improve. In this way, slowly, we will be able to resolve the issue.”

A woman wades through waist-deep water on the street outside Sayedabad Bus Terminal in Dhaka after incessant rains for hours on Tuesday, Jun 1, 2021.

A woman wades through waist-deep water on the street outside Sayedabad Bus Terminal in Dhaka after incessant rains for hours on Tuesday, Jun 1, 2021.

‘NO EASY ANSWERS’

There has not been much improvement in the state of the water drainage system since the city corporations took over, according to Bangladesh Institute of Planners General Secretary Adil Mohammed Khan.

“Currently there isn’t a quick or easy solution to the waterlogging issue. After all, a problem that developed over 30-40 years won’t be solved overnight.”

Due to the unplanned development spree in Dhaka, all the water eventually flows into the drainage system, he said. A lack of open green areas means that the water cannot enter the soil either.

Waterlogging after incessant rains makes the street in Dhaka’s Arambagh look like a canal on Tuesday, Jun 1, 2021.

Waterlogging after incessant rains makes the street in Dhaka’s Arambagh look like a canal on Tuesday, Jun 1, 2021.

“A city’s drainage system is supposed to handle about 40 to 50 percent of its rainwater, but our city’s system carries nearly 80 percent of that load. There are no green areas that can become water reservoirs. The natural canals have largely been filled in. A significant number of the box culverts built atop them are not effective. The city corporation is trying to restore and clean them, but it hasn’t been particularly fruitful.”

The urban planner says the construction of permanent structures atop the canals will present a major challenge to their efforts.

“It isn’t possible for the city corporations to remove this many illegal structures and dig more canals in such a short period of time. And they will face numerous legal hurdles if they try to demolish these structures.”