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The rising ferocity of floods, the aftermaths

Shihab Sarkar | Published: September 07, 2017 18:15:38 | Updated: October 20, 2017 07:22:49


A boy stands in the door of his flooded house in Bogra, Bangladesh, August 20, 2017. —Reuters photo

After playing havoc with vast swathes of the country's north and northeastern regions for more than three months, flood waters have started receding. However, spells of rain have not stopped altogether. It continues to pose the threat of onrush of water from rivers upstream. Flood forecast and warning authorities are not worried much, though; at least for now. This year's flood has been termed a major one, and is compared with the 1988 calamitous deluge. As per estimates by disaster management coordination authorities, over 7.5 million people in Bangladesh have been affected by the recent floods. The worse affected districts include those in the northern, northeastern and central regions. In fact, the first bout of the calamity struck the vast Haor areas in the country's north and northeastern zones in May-June. Excessive rain in the northeast across the border and the overflow of rivers there and later the onrush of water downstream into Bangladesh largely triggered this year's monsoon and pre-monsoon flooding.

 

With the areas gone under water beginning to surface, the flood-stricken people in millions in the country now find themselves set to embark on the second phase of the calamity: piecing things together to start life afresh. The government has asked the departments concerned to extend all-out support to the affected people to start rehabilitation. Like the onslaught of the floods, their aftermaths are also filled with scores of woes and hazards. Every major flood constitutes yet another challenge for the already flood-ravaged people. In developing countries like Bangladesh, the hazards emerge with menacing appearances. On the immediate level, the impacts of a protracted flooding are mostly found in displacements and outbreaks of water-borne diseases. These abruptly cropped-up problems, in fact, pose a fresh challenge to the already battered flood-affected people.

 

There might be a unique aspect to 2017 flood. The deluge this year is part of a greater flood that has hit two other countries in South Asia. Apart from Bangladesh, the eastern India including Bihar, West Bengal and the northeastern Assam was badly hit by flood. The other country, Nepal, experienced unusually high rainfall that triggered both flood and landslide killing a lot of people.  Apart from the havocs wrought by the long-drawn-out floods causing catastrophic dislocations, around 1200 people died in the floods. Series of sufferings, especially displacement-related ordeals, prompted myriad types of miseries among the affected millions.

 

Coming to the case of Bangladesh, damages to rural infrastructure appear to be a major problem. Besides croplands, crudely built dwelling houses, embankments and dykes have been washed away by the flooding. Apart from hearth and home, thousands of educational institutions have also been badly damaged by the onrush of waters.  According to official statistics, over 10,000 hectares of cropland have been damaged by the recent flooding in Bangladesh. Another statistics puts the number of roads affected by the deluge at 7,130 kilometres. These roads include national and regional highways and local concrete roads. As disaster experts view it, the damaged road communication is set to appear as a stumbling block to taking relief and rehabilitation materials to the remote areas.

 

Meanwhile, the UN has said recently that long-term food supplies to the affected areas may be hampered in the post-flood phase. The UN has singled out the vast areas of farmland destroyed by the flooding. Currently, different UN agencies are giving food aid to more than 200,000 people in the country.

 

"Many flood survivors have lost everything; their homes, their possessions, their crops," that's how the country director of a UN agency in Dhaka has viewed the situation in a grim observation. With a major part of the country still under Eid lag, the bad times awaiting the country remain consigned to the backburner. They are perhaps waiting in the wings, and are set to strike the nation as food crisis and destitution begin to surface in the flood-hit areas. As the situation stands now, in spite of the tentative beginning of the campaigns in the rehabilitation and disease control sectors, the affected people may have to brace for a long stretch of time before they are bailed out completely. It is inextricably hinged on ensuring sufficient food supply to the affected areas. However, dampers keep looming. Irregularities and mismanagement in the distribution of food have long been haunting the country's post-flood spectacle. These ills also stand in the way of repairing damaged roads, bridges and embankments as well as educational institutions.

 

Miseries have thus been an obstinate reality in the country's post-flood times. It's true the nation has come a long way from the messy condition of state-sponsored rehabilitation drives. As decades wore on, Bangladesh kept mustering the capability to deal with the calamities of flood, and their aftermaths. Yet it has to put in place well-thought-out disaster management strategies in order to remarkably cut down on the flood-related losses and sufferings.

 

The most glaring impact of floods in the recent decades has been recorded in agriculture. With the invention of high-yield varieties of crops coupled with the increase in their acreage, the losses in the agro-sector appear to be staggering. This is stark reality. Despite the continued reduction in the size of farmlands, the country is still highly dependent on agriculture. As a corollary, periodic flooding remains a constant threat to rural farmers in some flood-prone regions. Unlike cyclones and tropical storms, floods take time to emerge with their woeful impact on people, agriculture and food stocks. As has been seen in the aftermath of the country's great floods, the ravages of this year's flood, too, are feared to cause many a hardship and dislocation to the flood-hit people. In spite of the small number of deaths, varied types of ordeals are feared to plague the people for a longer stretch of time this year. Thanks to the exponential rise in the population of the country, the magnitude of floods has been more widespread in 2017 than in 1988. Moreover, with the passage of time the infrastructural development in the rural areas has gained more speed than in the past. With all these features showing their strong presence across Bangladesh, the impacts of even short-duration floods these days are felt quite acutely.

 

A country with over 700 rivers and tributaries, 54 flowing from across the border, Bangladesh is increasingly becoming vulnerable to floods. Apart from the excessive monsoon rain in the country, the overall flood situation is being aggravated by waters rushing in from the rain-fed rivers in the Indian states across the border. This monsoon, the eastern and northeastern India has also experienced excessive rain, the spell of which has later made their onslaught on the lower areas in Bangladesh. In fact, regular flooding has lately become a global feature. The countries to which this natural disaster was largely strange are now going through floods almost regularly. These include countries in the Americas, the US in particular, and Europe. The severity of floods has also increased in China and Southeast Asia. Global warming-induced flooding is increasingly affecting countries irrespective of their geological locations. The rich nations can cope with the flood impacts with relative ease. But countries like Bangladesh have few way outs. They watch the rising intensity of deluges helplessly, and find themselves in positions worse than before.

 

shihabskr@ymail.com

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