The Financial Express

Flash flood impact, the looming corona

Flash flood impact, the looming corona

Irregularities in relief distribution have been a regular feature in the country's post-disaster scenarios. Lack of coordination adds to this bottleneck. It has been over a fortnight since a wide-scale flash flood struck the northern and north-eastern Bangladesh. The flood triggered by rain-fed rivers across the border affected in particular the greater north-eastern districts of Sunamganj, Sylhet and Netrakona. Around 76,000 people were affected leading to displacement of nearly 500,000 people. Homesteads numbering 16,98,173 were damaged. Unlike the previous floods affecting different zones of the country, the latest one didn't assume the proportions of a great calamity. Yet the life of thousands in towns and villages bore the disaster's brunt. 

Upon conducting an aerial assessment, it has found of late that the flood water is receding. However, due to the sudden increase in the bouts of monsoon rain, flooding in some areas in northern Bangladesh registered a comeback. In such a situation, a daunting phase warranting full-throttle efforts to save people from the grim flood aftermaths is emerging fast. It's a highly critical phase, and the preparation to face it brooks no delay. If the local and central administrations make inordinate delays in starting the relief and rehabilitation activities, it will mean increase in the miseries of the flood-hit people. A sizeable number of people belong to the poor and ultra-poor classes. They are eagerly awaiting the people coming with myriad types of emergency relief goods, as well as the materials needed for rebuilding their shelters. The local administrations are prepared to wait for some more days. It's because they are acquainted with the massive and all-out efforts they might have to put in to launch the urgent relief operations and those of long-term rehabilitation. 

Irregularities begin creeping into relief and rehabilitation programmes with the arrival of the government materials in aid of the flood victims. However, most of the relief operations do not follow the legitimate practices after the Dhaka-based relief materials begin arriving in the far-flung affected areas through the channels of local administrations. The network of phony relief syndicates, hoarders and pseudo social workers bide time. They swing into their dubious operation immediately after the relief goods' distribution starts. In the days of almost annual assaults of cyclones and floods on this country, the activities of relief goods manipulators were rampant. Large numbers of genuine flood and cyclone victims would be found becoming paupers in a short time on being deprived of their due shares of state relief. On the other hand, with the changes in climate patterns the frequency of natural disasters assumed an erratic nature. But the relief and rehabilitation goods' pilferage and mismanagement continued unabated. Those were conducted by well-known syndicates manned by lackeys of local influential quarters. 

One hopes these abominable practices will not recur this time, when largely unpredictable flash floods have struck vast areas in the country's northern and northeastern regions. Due to their being situated alongside the lower riparian rivers like the Brahmaputra, the Surma, the Kushiyara and a few smaller rivers, the vast areas' flooding was a foregone conclusion. Normally, almost every decade in the 21st century, flash floods triggered by water onrush from rivers upstream continue to severely hit vast swathes of the country's greater north. The people living in this region have accepted it to be their fate. But the country's river experts are not going to accept it. Apart from excessive monsoon rains, they blame it all on the weak river embankments in Bangladesh, ritualistic negotiations on river management on the other side of the border, and also a short shrift being given to the country's north and northeastern areas. The policymakers appear to have witnessed in awe the massive inundation of the country's fields of the chief crop --- paddy --- due to the untimely flooding of the 'haors'. Unfortunately, the onrush of water through the common rivers caused by flash floods continues to elude them. A lower riparian country has to look forward to the fruitful actions taken by upper riparian ones. If they continue to evade or gloss over the problem leading to further sufferings in the lower riparian territories, government-level talks remain the only key to an amicable way out. 

The flash floods have lately been playing literal havoc with the northern and north-eastern Bangladesh. It's true that the states of Assam, Meghalaya and a couple of others are also passing through bouts of excessive rains. But being in the upper riparian area, they have the great advantage of constructing a strong and effective mechanism to control the water stream of their rivers. On the part of Bangladesh, it's upbeat to realise that the nation was able to cope with the initial blow of the recent flash floods. Being a little more than a fortnight into the floods' assault, people in the country's north and northeastern areas, and the authorities concerned, have started reaching the conclusion: The bout of the calamity is weakening fast. It bodes well for the nation.  

The fallout being assessed, a complete picture is expected to come out soon. Immediately after it, preparing data on the affected should be in place, with special focus on the margilalised people who are feared to be sidestepped. But the scourge of tampering with relief and rehabilitation materials keeps looming. It's time the nation dealt strongly with this menace. Bangladesh should silence the flash floods' roars. The demon of Covid-19 has started awakening again. This time it is feared to be more ferocious than in its last assaults. In short, a phase of testing times stares the nation in its face. Bangladesh should be prepared to tackle this phase of bad times.   

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