Water-logging: A scar on the face of Dhaka

Dhaka,  Wed,  26 July 2017
Published : 19 May 2017, 21:49:08
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OPINION

Water-logging: A scar on the face of Dhaka

Nabil Azam Dewan
As the monsoon keeps knocking on the door, Dhaka has already been agonising under the spells of torrential rain. The low-lying neighbourhoods bear the brunt while commuters face irritable traffic jams on rain-swept streets. Pedestrians navigate the streets under waist-deep water, smelling the open-drain sewage. Frustrated residents post photographs of a sunken Dhaka on Facebook complaining about the pathetic conditions. One-third of Dhaka (almost) should not come to a standstill in an hour's rainfall if Bangladesh's lower-middle income status is taken as a gauge. 

Evidently, the government is yet to upgrade the drainage system of a city with the world's highest population density. Obstruction of Dhaka's existing canals should explain the matter. Therefore, Dhaka is unable to hold large volume of rain water. With frequent and further intense rainfall, water-logging may also exacerbate. Recently, a joint study by the BRAC University and the BUET calculated that potential damages from Dhaka's water-logging is likely to be between Tk110 billion and Tk139 billion by 2050 if the government fails to construct flood-resistant infrastructure and upgrade the existing ones. 

Historically, Dhaka has relied on a drainage system of urban canals (khals) linked to surrounding rivers. Simultaneously, such natural canals disposed of floodwater and worked as transportation routes. Dhaka's unplanned and unregulated urbanisation has caused existing wetlands to be filled up by numerous commercial interests and hence water disposal capacity decreased tremendously. Since the 1990s, the capital lost vast areas of wetlands despite enacting Water Body Conservation Act 2000.

Moreover, recent reports claim that 80 per cent of Dhaka is drained through 12 drainage zones dependent on water channels, canals and surrounding rivers. However, some of the city's canals like Dholai Khal, Segunbagicha Khal, Jirani Khal, Begunbari Khal, Ibrahimpur Khal, and Gopibagh Khal have almost disappeared due to four decades of myopic policymaking. At present, most of the drainage channels are either under illegal occupation of influential commercial entities or chocked up for the construction of roads, box culvert and sewerage. Eventually, such factors have made the canals dysfunctional since the purpose was to channel Dhaka's flood or drainage water.

Despite one of the primary responsibilities of Dhaka's two city corporations and WASA being the prevention of water-logging, the authorities are not complying with their civic duty. Instead, they are engaged in frequent blame games without concrete solutions. Coordination to mitigate the woes of water-logging is still lacking in. Experts also blamed solid waste for clogging up the drains for street floods.  

Apparently, a megacity like Dhaka can opt for smart investments meeting the demands of upward population and radical urbanisation alongside climate change. Experts opined that the city needs a total investment worth Tk2.7 billion in storm-water drainage pumps, drainage pipe clearing and various measures to prevent water-logging in every ward within 12 hours. In addition to Dhaka's Detailed Area Plan (DAP) and Sewerage Master Plan, the government should plan to minimise risks of disasters and climate change and improve its service delivery for making Dhaka a true hub for economic growth and human development. Additionally, Dhaka calls for close coordination among various governmental agencies in order to making the megacity liveable. 

Lastly, Dhaka's drainage system should consist of a network of sewerage lines and drains interconnected to water bodies like ponds, lakes and canals. Saving the water channels from land grabbers and stopping the bureaucratic blame-games are relatively crucial for preventing water-logging - arguably one of the world's worst. Furthermore, the government should emphasise maintenance of the existing infrastructure as well as garner more investments in the long run.

nabil.dewan@gmail.com
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