July 15, 2004


I am sure everyone is aware of the flash flood in Bangladesh's north-eastern region because of the media publicity. Our achievements are seldom propagated this fast by the western media.

Now I would like to state here what floods mean for Bangladesh. Floods are a recurring phenomenon in the country. Each year in Bangladesh about 26,000 sq km, 18% of the country is flooded. During severe floods, the affected area may exceed 55% of the total area of the country. Millions of people take refuge in the drier parts of the country during flood. Bangladesh experiences three types of floods:

(a) monsoon flood - seasonal, increases slowly and decreases slowly, inundates vast areas and causes huge losses to life and property;
(b) flash flood - water increases and decreases suddenly, generally happens in the valleys of the hilly areas; and
(c) tidal flood - short duration, height is generally 3m to 6m, blocks inland flood drainage.

Over thousands of years, people living in Bengal Delta learned how to live with rivers and adjusted their lives to the deltaic conditions of the land.

1) Settlement Pattern: In settling on flood plains, they always seek out high patches of land to construct dwellings and used the rest for farming.
2)Cropping Pattern: Through a process of natural selection, the people of Bangladesh has developed the amazing varieties of bona aman, which can rapidly grow twenty feet tall or even higher to withstand deep flooding.
3) Transportation: In the dry season, people walk right on the floodplains along ails or elevated borders. During the rainy season, when floodplains is inundated, they use boats.

The people of Bangladesh, therefore, found ways to live with rivers. They respect rivers. They know that rivers gave birth to this land, and rivers would come periodically to nurture it with silts. Therefore, they struck a bargain with the rivers: instead of trying to prevent river inundation, they try to make best use of it. Some positive aspects of river inundations:

1) Silt deposit leads to elevation of plain as much as 1 inch a year.
2) Silts are rich in nutrients and triggers other biological activities in the floodplains. That's why Bangladeshi soil is very much fertile.
3) River inundation makes monsoon agriculture possible.
4) By recharging the water bodies, river inundation helps to maintain the fish habitats.
5) It recharges underground water aquifers.
6) It has a great cleansing effect on the overall physical environment and it helps preserve the flora and fauna of the land.

So what Bangladesh need is an effective flood control plan and use the benefits of the flooding wisely. According to this essay the embankment control approach (which is the most used control method) is discouraged. Because this costly method does not solve flood problems rather creates new ones. There are lobbies of certain quarters including the donors to carry on with the embankment project mainly for the interest of the persons and the associations and the flood problems are remaining the same.

According to the report the appropriate flood control approach for Bangladesh is to open up as much space as possible to accommodate river overflow. This follows from simple arithmetic: given the volume of water and gradient, the height of flooding decreases proportionately with the increase of area over which water can spread. This is a strategy not of flood prevention but of flood mitigation and control. The approach is based on the time-honored principle by which our ancestors lived in this area, namely: "live with the rivers and benefit from them". The measures required to implement this method:

1) Re-excavation and dredging.
2) Ensure Free Passage of Water Across Floodplains.
3) Restoration of Water Ways.
4) Revival of Fisheries.
5) Adjustment of Rural Settlement Pattern.
6) Low Embankment with Floodgates.

I hope that this new approach is widely reviewed and implemented by the authorities so that a proper flood control measure in Bangladesh remains in affect.

Lastly I would say, that considering the amount of natural calamities and destruction of infrastructure, Bangladesh is achieving an almost 6% economic growth. There is no shortage of food. So when you read another news of devastating flood in Bangladesh please recognize the tremendous courage of the people of the land, who seldom lose heart to start everything all over again to take their country forward.


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