Bangladesh

Water-logged Dhaka: Questions of survival for a city

Dhaka

Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

MNA Editorial Desk: Rain is supposed to be a blessing but it turned into a curse for the citizens of Dhaka in recent years. Even a little rain floods the streets causing tremendous hassle and hazard for them. It seems like there is no drainage system in Dhaka city and the water has nowhere to move. Moreover, the waste materials and sewerage water mixing with this logged water create serious health risks.

This year, the monsoon has stayed for a long time giving a vibe of climate change in Bangladesh as well as in our neighbouring countries also. The people suffered a lot due to this prolonged monsoon and it might not be over yet though there is a feel of winter approaching soon. This year is almost gone and the citizens will suffer again the next year unless the government takes immediate steps based on proper planning of flood control and efficient water drainage system.

Though Bangladesh is a country of flat land, it is actually a rolling land meaning has ups and downs on the plain. If we closely observe our roads, we will find proof of that as our roads move along ups and downs throughout the country.

Our Dhaka city is growing very fast in terms of new high-rise buildings, new offices and lots of new citizens coming to Dhaka. Whenever we intend to build a building or structure, we need to pass the designs from RAJUK or previously known DIT for each building. This plane defines the height of the building but that does not dictate on which level (height from the road or water level) the building should be constructed.

The road level (RL) is not fixed for different zones. In that scenario, many buildings are being built under the road level or water level. Moreover, in many cases, buildings are constructed earlier than the roads. That is driving these buildings or roads to go under the water level and rain water gets logged and flows on the roads or inside the buildings. And the water gets stuck as there is no place to roll. If the roads and buildings are built at a higher level, then that automatically increases the depth of the adjacent canals and more water can be contained in those canals without much extra effort of the government.

But we find many constructions below the water level and being a country in the downstream where water flows from upstream to our waterbed, these constructions always bear the risk of going under water. So, RAJUK or DIT should fix the land level on which roads and buildings should be constructed as it will not only ease the life of the citizens but also will create more space for the water to contain. Time has come when we should focus on at what level a building should be constructed rather than how high a building is.

To get rid of the waterlog problem, it is very important that along with the four rivers surrounding Dhaka city — Buriganga, Shitolokkha, Turag and Balu, the 54 identified canals are fully utilized. According to the District Administration, 26 canals are required to be recovered. Most of these canals are occupied by the land-grabbers with high political influences and is already occupied by multiple structures.

Without regaining hold of these canals, it is almost impossible to avoid the severe flood in Dhaka city in the case of heavy rainfall. The situation that arises now-a-days in rainy days at our beloved city is heavily caused by the loss of these canals.

There are very few of these canals still present in reality as these are not filled up by the occupying forces. But these few also have almost no flow. Waste materials have clogged at different parts of these canals. Due to no maintenance for years, the waste materials have taken the place of the water and are stuck no firmly that even pressure from huge water cannot create any flow.

Moreover, bottlenecks are created at the points where the canal rushes away the water. So, the waste materials need to be removed very soon so that water can flow properly. Along with that, the occupied canals must be regained. Of course there are so many structures on those canals now but there is no option but to reclaiming those canals by removing the structures for the sake of saving Dhaka city.

In the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan 1995-2015 prepared by RAJUK in technical assistance of UNDP and UNCHS, flood control was given high priority. As part of that plan, they recommended around 30 flood retention ponds to be created and reserved alongside the banks of four surrounding rivers of Dhaka city.

It was stated that, control will be maintained over the areas designated in the DMDP Structure Plan for flood retention ponds in order to ensure that they remain capable of fulfilling their primary function of water storage at times of flooding.

Many of these pond areas were under private control used mostly for agricultural purpose as these were the lowest land surrounding Dhaka city. Thorough recommendations were made to retain those lands from private control in exchange of government lands at other places.

High emphasis was given on establishing those ponds. The plan also prohibited construction of structures in detail where some moujas with restricted construction zones were identified. But unfortunately, those prohibitions are not in action as many structures were built in spite of that plan and authorities failed to restrict that completely.

These flood retention ponds could have worked efficiently to store the flood waters during rainy season. These could also be a good storage to contain storm water, which could be pumped back into dry lands or rivers later when the flood was over.

But unfortunately, these ponds were not reserved properly and those lands are still privately occupied by the original landowners or evil land grabbers. With those ponds in action, the flood water of Dhaka city would move very fast and could be contained. As those locations were around the banks of major rivers, they could also prevent water overflow during monsoon. There is no way the current situation can be improved without the establishment, control and reservation of those ponds.

During the season of heavy rain, the water gets removed in three ways — roll down, evaporation and land soak. For rolling down of the water, we need to identify proper road level at different zones of Dhaka city before building any structure as well as free flood water flow zones are required.

We need open space for containing flood water for quicker evaporation. Lands are required to be open and clear of any construction for the water to be soaked by land. But none of these are working properly for Dhaka. Violating the Water Conservation Law 2000, most of the canals and ponds were filled up and heavy constructions were done over those filled up lands.

RAJUK prepared a Detailed Area Plan (DAP) which failed to identified original canals of Dhaka city and included many original land areas as wetlands, which were later cleared off that plan under political and monetary influences in spite of a DAP committee working on that.

These plans are not available to the public. If the locations of water conservation areas were displayed in every ward of Dhaka city, people would not buy those lands or would avoid construction over those lands. But that never happens and as a result, canals and flood retention ponds are now lost.

Moreover, Construction Rules 2008 stated to leave a certain space at all sides of a building while constructing so that the water can be soaked by the raw land but these guidelines are mostly ignored by the owners of the structures and authority also failed severely to ensure the implementation of those laws.

As the land is unable to soak water, the water level is going down very fast which will increase the risk of several natural calamities including earthquake and most importantly, this might drive abandoning Dhaka as our capital at a point of time.

Dhaka city should have 5,523 acres of conserved water retention areas along with 20,093 acres of canals and rivers and 74,598 acres of flood flow zones according to Flood Action Plan and DAP. But in reality, we do not have those and it is becoming a disaster in terms of controlling flood in Dhaka city.

Many cities all around the world died due to lack of proper planning; many countries shifted their capital — and it seems Dhaka city will also face that similar fate while it is already being considered among one of the least liveable cities of the world. Detailed efficient planning of the government, firm political commitment from all political parties and participation of the citizens are immediately required to save Dhaka city. It is not only a matter of citizen’s suffering during the rainy days but also a matter of the survival of our capital on which we invested so much. It required uncorrupted effort at all ends. And it is high time before we hit the upcoming monsoon.

The author is the Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA)

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