Looming cyclone sparks fears of dam breach, tidal surge in coastal Bangladesh

  • Shuvro Sachin, Khulna Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-05-24 10:41:03 BdST

Natural calamities have been devastating the lives of nearly two million people in the coastal areas of Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat for one and a half decades. A brewing cyclone in the Bay of Bengal brings back old memories to the coastal population, as the dams scarred by previous storms are too weak to survive another tidal surge.

A deep depression over the Bay intensified into a cyclonic storm, the latest threat to the shanties that they call home along the dams in Koyra, Dacope and Paikgachha in Khulna, Shyamnagar and Ashashuni in Satkhira, and Sharankhola and Mongla in Bagerhat.

A year has passed since the last cyclone, Amphan, struck, but the Water Development Board failed to strengthen the dams to protect the vulnerable areas. 

“It is clear after cyclone Amphan that the feeble dams are bringing sufferings to the lives of the people,” said local MP Md Akhteruzzaman.

Gloria Jharna Sarker, a reserved-seat MP who is from Dacope, said the coastal people are vulnerable to disasters. To protect them, she said, coordination needs to be ensured among government and nongovernmental agencies.

Nishith Ranjan Mistri, a writer and local journalist, said the deadly storms, which struck in regular intervals before the people could recover from the destructions, made many families homeless.

Many residents volunteered to strengthen the dam, which was built in the 1960s, after Amphan damaged it. They are now panicked by the news of Cyclone Yaas, which may make landfall along the coasts of India and Bangladesh on May 26.

A three-kilometre stretch of the dam from Doshalia to Hogla near the Sundarbans, is in a vulnerable state. Locals alleged the WDB neglected duty by repairing the dam with a patchwork when water from the Kapotaksha River began flowing through a leak about a month ago.

Five kilometres away, another stretch of the dam from East Mothbari to Pobna is worn out. Water overflows whenever the level rises.     

Shamsur Rahman, chairman of South Bedkashi Union, said the people of his area had to suffer from inundation for four years after Cyclone Aila struck Bangladesh in 2009. Only 10 percent had their homes unaffected, while nearly 2,500 families had to leave.

The new cyclone over the bay has created panic among them.

Government efforts to rehabilitate the families hit by Amphan are still going on, according to Animesh Biswas, executive officer of Koyra Upazila.

“The biggest problem here is the weak WDB dams. It needs a permanent solution.”

Abul Hossain, WDB’s superintending engineer in Khulna, admitted that the dams are getting weaker for various reasons.

The sufferings of the people will ease once new projects to construct 480 kilometres of dams at about Tk 100 billion are implemented, he said. The projects are awaiting the government’s approval.

Nikhil Chandra Bhadra, coordinator of the Movement to Protect the Sundarbans and the Coasts, said natural disasters have increased along the coasts due to climate change.

“This is why we have long been demanding sustainable dams in these areas.”

Dilip Kumar Datta, a professor of environmental science at Khulna University, believes high salinity in water is quickening the damage to the dams.

The soil particles are losing the capacity to hold each other due to the salt, he said.

Tidal River Management or TRM approach, which allows controlled flooding, can be a solution to the problem, according to him.