The tragedy of cyclones and consequent floods and embankment damage is an annual saga in Bangladesh. This year was no exception.
But what's lacking is a sustainable embankment and river management policy, say policymakers and experts, as they have urged the Bangladesh government to allocate an emergency budget for repair of embankments across the country in the wake of damage by Cyclone Amphan.
In fact, the clarion call for a long-term approach to tackle embankment damage came from none other than MP Saber Hossain Chowdhury, the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, at a virtual seminar on Saturday.
"Due to lack of sustainable embankment and river management policy, the country faces huge financial losses every year as money is spent on embankment repairs. We need a long-term plan to tackle the problem as well as an integrated approach by engaging with ministries that are related with water and river management directly or indirectly," he said.
Saber Hossain was the chief guest at the seminar, titled 'Demand Emergency Budget Allocation in Upcoming Dry Season to Embankment Repair & Maintenance', was organised by non-government organisations, COAST Trust and Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihood (CSRL).
Arif Dewan of COAST Trust, on his part, said the latest Cyclone Amphan and consequent floods had damaged around 600km embankments across the country, thus causing losses to the tune of BDT 75 billion to the state exchequer. "In this context, emergency repair is needed in the upcoming dry season to avoid further devastation, he said.
Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, the chairman of Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), who chaired the seminar, however, said that the country has a plan. "But it has never been the priority. We need an all-party parliamentary group to give a nod for an embankment management strategy. That might show results," he said at the seminar.
Moderated by Rezaul Karim of COAST Trust, others who attended the seminar included Talukdar Abdul Khaleque, the Mayor of Khulna City Corporation, Asheq Ullah Rafiq, Cox's Bazar-2 MP, Nurunnabi Chowdhury, MP of Bhola-3 constituency, Md Monowar Hossain Chowdhury, Gaibandha-4 MP.
Talukdar Abdul said that waterlogging is mainly caused by river siltation but embankment failure has been escalating the issue. "So the government should consider both issues as a long-term solution," he said.
MP Dhirendra Nath Shambhu, on his part, has called for ensuring transparency and accountability of the Water Development Board in case of implementation at least. He has also recommended the fund on an emergency basis for repairing the damaged embankments in the upcoming dry season.
MP Monowar Hossain said that siltation from upstream rivers are causing the erosion and embankment damage in northern districts. "Planned action on dredging is important to save the people and assets," he said.
Barrister Shamim Patwary MP said that around 5,000-50,000 people are displaced every year due to river erosion and the main cause of increasing poverty in the northern districts. "Current national budget is insufficient and there is a need to increase it, while foreign support for protection of embankments and river erosion can be seen as a long-term solution."
Echoing similar sentiments, MP Asheq Ullah said that due to lack of appropriate design and construction by WDB, embankment doesn’t sustain in southeastern coastal areas, especially in Cox’s Bazar district and people suffer. "Appropriate embankment design based on the soil structure and geological difference in coastal areas is needed," he said.
Similarly, MP Nurunnabi Chowdhury demanded an effective and sustainable embankment design and implementation to save Bhola district from river erosion as it is situated in the mouth of Bay of Bengal.
'Formulate strategy to tackle annual embankment damage'