In the face of unprecedented floods

Dhaka,  Mon,  25 September 2017
Published : 17 Aug 2017, 20:59:51

In the face of unprecedented floods

Signs are not inspiring as yet. But the Bangalees have always responded admirably during each national crisis. Hopefully they will not be found wanting in the will to undertake yet another mission to help the helpless and distressed people in the flood-affected areas, writes Nilratan Halder
The predictions are grim. Different organisations working with weather and water and experts in the areas are unanimous that floods in the Brhmaputra and Ganges basins are likely to take a turn for the worst by the third and fourth week of this month. The Joint Research Centre (JRC), a science hub of the European Union has been specific that the floods in the Brahmaputra basin may be the worst in 200 years. According to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF), by August 19 starting from August 10, there is the possibility of more than 200mm of rainfall in the southern region of the Himalayas. This will raise the water level in the Brahmaputra to the ultimate danger level. Himanshu Thakkar, a water expert, also confirms the worst fear by analysing the NASA rainfall accumulation map for the subcontinent. According to him, waters in the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Teesta basins by August 10 were running high and were poised to touch or even cross the highest-ever flood level (HFL).       

Mercifully the Padma basin has not been equally threatening. But the highest ever rainfall in decades is expected to get the Padma in spate as well. Already 26 districts in the country's north and north-east have been severely affected. With the water rolling further down, the country's middle part has been affected and in the days to come the excess water will rush towards the sea. 

Now the question is if the floods are really going to surpass the magnitudes of previous worst floods. If it really happens, is the country prepared enough for the calamity? In the face of a natural calamity of this order, deterrent is out of question. When embankments give in at several places and the gushing water sweeps away everything before it, there is little man can do. Survival comes first. But survival depends on a number of factors. One of them is early warning of the approaching natural disaster. True, in case of floods people usually get more time than in case of cyclone or tornado to leave their home and hearth. Yet evacuation is a tricky and arduous process. People have to uproot themselves from their homes. And it is not easy to decide what must be left behind and what to be taken along. 

In temporary shelters either on roads, embankments, schools or government buildings on high grounds, life is not only hard but miserable. Displaced people are more vulnerable then than any time before. It is at such a time, they need care and sympathy. With people's financial condition becoming better than any time in the past, the people seem to have lost the sense of fellow feeling. In the past batches of volunteers set out with relief materials to help disaster-stricken people. Young people in particular collected donations and used clothes from local residents of Dhaka City. Offices of some of the international aid agencies in the capital also arranged for relief distribution among the victims. 

What has happened to such initiatives? The government has deployed the army to help rescue marooned people. But government agencies alone cannot look after such a vast number of people. If the floods surpass all previous records, millions will find themselves in condition where they will need food, medical and other supports for their survival. The country's depleted food stock has already forced the government to import rice from a number of countries. Then the floods are expected to leave a long trail of devastation as well. Not all the affected people will be able to save their yearly food reserve. Already the staple has become costlier and post-flood price manipulation by rice traders cannot be ruled out. In that case rice will be still dearer and the flood-affected people will be in no position to afford the price. In the same way, other crops will go under water and recovery of such crops and vegetables is an impossible proposition. With the staple supply becoming inadequate and other income sources from crops, vegetable and fish farms getting washed away, there is likely to be a serious crisis of food. Quite naturally, malnutrition among a large population will set in. 

When the water starts receding, the flood-hit people are likely to fall victim to various diseases on account of scarcity of pure water and living in unhealthy conditions of temporary shelters. Unless they receive free medical care and medicine, it will be difficult for the majority to buy those. Medical teams have to be arranged for treatment of the ailing people among the flood victims. Once again, this programme cannot be accomplished by the government alone. Voluntary medical teams will have to move to the affected areas for rendering medical services there. 

Signs are not inspiring as yet. But the Bangalees have always responded admirably during each national crisis. Hopefully they will not be found wanting in the will to undertake yet another mission to help the helpless and distressed people in the flood-affected areas. If different organisations embark on relief works, the most important factor is to coordinate between and among them. So, let's hope that a plan will soon be devised centrally for relief operation to be carried out by various organisations.           

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
Published by the Editor for International Publications Limited from Tropicana Tower (4th floor), 45, Topkhana Road, GPO Box : 2526 Dhaka- 1000 and printed by him from City Publishing House Ltd., 1 RK Mission Road, Dhaka-1000.
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