Bangladesh eyes long-term solution to land erosion amid rampant flooding

  • Kamal Hossain Talukdar, Senior Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-07-31 16:45:35 BdST

Bangladesh is taking steps to permanently resolve the problem of land erosion as floods sweep across the country throwing millions of lives into disarray.

Work is underway to address the issue after the authorities identified 54 vulnerable areas across 22 districts, Deputy Minister for Water Resources Enamul Haque Shamim told bdnews24.com. The results of these efforts will be apparent in a few years, he added.

Large parts of Bangladesh have been submerged for more than a month in the wake of torrential rains. River erosion has been rampant, too, during this period. The phenomenon is likely to intensify further when the floodwaters recede, adding to the woes of a population that is already grappling with a coronavirus epidemic.

The Ministry of Water Resources headed by Shamim, who hails from a place beside the river Padma, holds the key to addressing the problem. A former vice president of DUCSU who had also led Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling party, Shamim is a newcomer to the cabinet appointed at the start of the Awami League government's current term.

In an interview with bdnews24.com on Thursday, Shamim revealed the government’s plans to prevent land erosion in the country.

A lawmaker from Shariatpur, Shamim began by talking about the changes in the landscape of his ancestral home due to river erosion.

“I belong to a district that suffers a lot from river erosion. I hail from Shariatpur. I was born in Naria Upazila but my father had to move and settle in another upazila as we lost our ancestral home to the river.”

He highlighted the geographical aspects of flooding and river erosion in Bangladesh, a delta nation. Floods and river erosion do not depend entirely on Bangladesh but on the upstream rivers in Assam and Jalpaiguri in India, Nepal and China, he said.

The deputy minister, however, admitted that the people's sufferings from floods have been aggravated by the coronavirus epidemic. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered the authorities to flag the areas that are susceptible to river erosion and find a permanent solution to the problem, he said.

“As we are initiating permanent projects in 54 places at 22 districts, people by a large extent will be spared from the effects of waterlogging and river erosion,” said Shamim, adding that he has already visited the vulnerable sites.

Although dams are usually constructed to prevent rivers from devouring lands, these structures sometimes collapse, leaving the places they were supposed to protect inundated. A lack of maintenance efforts coupled with corruption has also exacerbated the situation.

“It is true that dams were not properly maintained,” said Shamim.

A government taskforce has been constituted to tackle corruption and assess the quality of work, he said in reply to a question.

Embankments stretch across almost 16,700 km of the country, including 7,557 km in the coastal areas, the deputy minister pointed out. There are also 2,500 km of submerged dams in the haor areas.

“All these dams were constructed around 40 years ago. These are not very high or wide. Many of them need immediate repair.”

In 139 folders, especially in the coastal areas, the height and width of each of the dams are being extended, he said.

The new projects by the government made dredging mandatory, while the workforce has been increased too.

Shamim also shed light on the positive results of the government projects. Under the prime minister initiative, a project aimed at putting an end to the problem of flooding was launched in Naria where 5,000 houses were destroyed in 2018. Only 10 houses were destroyed there in 2019, while the mainland has not been affected by the floods this year.

The government initiated a project worth Tk 80 billion in Khulna after the people who suffered from cyclones Fani and Amphan voiced the need for a dam, and not relief goods, said the deputy minister.

Permanent projects will be initiated in all vulnerable areas in phases. It will reduce the risk of flooding and bring a lasting solution to the problem of river erosion and waterlogging.

The budget for the water resources ministry has been raised by Tk 10 billion from last year to facilitate its increased work capacity, according to Shamim.

Asked about the government’s plan if the flood situation lingers, he said, “We are standing beside our people. The Ministry of Water Resources has been assisting the people since Apr 19 amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.”

The ministry is yet to get a full picture of the impact of the flood, the deputy minister added.

Residents of Nandail Char in Bogura's Sariakandi Upazila wait in a long queue for relief materials. Photo: Mostafigur Rahman

Residents of Nandail Char in Bogura's Sariakandi Upazila wait in a long queue for relief materials. Photo: Mostafigur Rahman

“We’re receiving district-wise information and taking steps accordingly. Many roads are submerged. No matter how well-constructed the roads are, they will be dilapidated if they remain inundated for a month.”

Labelling his office as a 'ministry for humanity', Shamim added that it is making efforts to ensure that the lives and livelihoods of the people in the Haor areas are protected.

Shamim also highlighted the increased efficiency of his ministry in implementing projects.

“Earlier, it took two to three years to initiate a project. But now, we design a project and send it to the planning ministry which forwards it to the ECNEC for approval. We start the project within a week after the ECNEC approves it and this entire process takes only a year.”

“We hope that the permanent projects will ensure the safety of the people from waterlogging and erosion in the next few years,” Shamim said.