Preparedness against natural calamities

Dhaka,  Wed,  20 September 2017
Published : 05 Aug 2017, 20:15:59

Preparedness against natural calamities

Saleh Akram
Recent flash floods in the Sylhet region followed by successive landslides triggered by torrential monsoon rains in southeastern Bangladesh again brought to the fore the ravages unleashed by nature in this country from time to time. Natural disasters like cyclone and flooding are no strangers to this country and along with impacts of climate change globally, they account for increasing deterioration of the situation. 

Coastal flooding, combined with the erosion of river banks is quite common. Majority of land in Bangladesh, about 80 per cent is floodplain, and the country has an extensive sea coastline rendering it vulnerable to widespread damage from time to time. We should take stock of the measures taken so far to offset these challenges. As these calamities strike regularly, they get us neither off-guard nor unaware. The forecasts are there and the impacts are well known and not likely to be much different. Stock of the present situation reveals that as threats of climate change and global warming are rising, our defences remain obsolete and therefore are grossly inadequate. To make things worse, the recent reports by international organisations have raised fresh concerns about the possibility of greater damage. 

According to separate reports by UNICEF and WHO, Bangladesh is at top of the list of countries under risk of climate change. Besides, international organisations including German Watch, IPCC of UN and consulting organisations like Maplecroft of UK had produced reports beforehand depicting a gloomier vision of flood, cyclone, draught and tidal bore. The ADB website revealed that of the 48 countries of Asia and Pacific, Bangladesh is most vulnerable to flood and duration of flood has been increasing by 15 days every year. One cyclone or tidal bore every 2 to 5 years is costing us more in terms of human lives and migration abroad. 

Occasions are also going to be more frequent as forecast by the said reports, but a concerted action plan to fight the challenges of nature is not noticeable. Most actions are purely isolated in nature. For example, while more permanent defences strengthened with reinforced concrete are being built to reduce the damages inflicted by flood, many embankments are built purely of soil and turf by local farmers. 

In another report entitled 'A region at risk: The human dimension of climate change in Asia and Pacific', ADB says, if sea level rises by another 62 centimetres by 2080, 13 per cent of coastal areas of Bangladesh will be affected as flood will engulf 20 per cent more areas than now. According to the same report, more than 100 million people of Bangladesh are at present under the risk of flood and taking the rate of annual population growth into account the number will reach 110 million by 2060. 

Salinity spreads into vast coastal area as rainfall is decreasing and water flow in rivers goes down below normal. Natural calamities have increased due to climate change which include cyclone, flood, tidal bore, river erosion and land slide. According to British research organization Maplecroft, Bangladesh is the most vulnerable among 15 countries to natural calamities.  

Each year in Bangladesh about 26,000 km2 (around 18 per cent of the country) is flooded, killing over 5,000 people and destroying more than seven million homes. During severe floods the affected area may exceed 75 per cent of the country, as was seen in 1998. This volume is 95 per cent of the total annual inflow. By comparison, only about 187,000 million m3 of stream flow is generated by rainfall inside the country during the same period. The floods have caused devastation in Bangladesh throughout history, especially during the years 1966, 1987, 1988 and 1998. The South Asian floods of 2007 made 9.0 million people homeless and approximately 1,000 people died from drowning and waterborne diseases.

Latest addition to the list of calamities is landslide. Deadly multitude of landslides triggered by torrential monsoon rains in southeastern Bangladesh is estimated to have claimed at least 135 lives in June-July this year. This disaster occurred just two weeks after Cyclone Mora killed 9 people and caused significant damage across the region. According to the UN, collapsing hillsides and heavy flooding are now estimated to have killed over 156 people across five districts. Although the government with the help of UNICEF and UNDP mobilised an emergency recovery plan, a longer-term plan is needed to prevent recurrence of landslide-related disaster in Bangladesh. 

Monsoon rains have triggered flooding across 11 districts in northeastern Bangladesh. NGO partners report that vast areas of Moulvibazar and Sylhet went under water affecting agricultural livelihoods due to monsoon-induced floods that began around July 22. 

Natural calamities have become a regular affair and according to another World Bank report, Bangladesh is second among 12 countries under risk of cyclone. Due to its geographical location, ice water along with rain water of India and Nepal flows through Bangladesh down to the Bay of Bengal. It is estimated that every year an average of 1094 billion cubic metres of water flow through Bangladesh throwing 1.5 million hectors of cultivable land under flood and stagnant water. If annual average rainfall increases by 10-15 per cent by 2030 and about 27 per cent by 2075 as noted in the said reports, the additional volume of water on its way through Bangladesh will create acute flood. 

In the backdrop of intensifying risks and threats of climate change and global warming, Bangladesh is becoming increasingly unsafe and long term measures should be in place to address the probable impacts in future.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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