Lovely monsoon turns into nightmare in Dhaka
The monsoon has arrived early with full force this year. It is beautiful to enjoy a rainy day with a cup of tea in hand. Everyone is our country loves rain and its soothing sound. But this beauty of nature has turned into a nightmare for millions of citizens of Dhaka as issues like waterlogging and drainage water overflow never let us enjoy this natural blessing. Hence, though it is too late this year, the citizens will suffer again the next year unless the government takes immediate steps based on proper planning of flood control and efficient water drainage system.
The first Master Plan for the planned development of Dhaka City was prepared during the decade of 1950s having a time-span of 20 years. The then DIT and now RAJUK was entrusted with the task of its implementation. But as Dhaka became the capital of independent Bangladesh in 1971, earlier assumptions of the plan could not be matched with the fast-expanding city.
A second Master Plan titled 'Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan' (DMDP) was prepared by RAJUK, which had a 20-year time-span from 1995 to 2015. It had three components - Structure Plan, Urban Area Plan and the Detailed Area Plan (DAP). The DAP was aimed at implementing the Structure Plan and Urban Area Plan as well as relevant policies and recommendations. The task of formulating the DAP was undertaken by RAJUK in 2004. It was completed in 2007, although the plan was supposed to be completed within 2006. The government approved the Detailed Area Plan (DAP) under DMDP through a gazette notification issued on June 22, 2010.
The DAP appeared to be a faulty landscape as over hundred amendments were passed against that upon review requests by the cabinet committee and now it is in a chaotic state. As a consequence, Dhaka now faces a perilous future unless actions are immediately taken by the concerned authorities to reverse the ruinous trend. It has jeopardized the full effort of the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan (DMDP) which allowed the current waterlogging situation of the city to prevail by not reserving the water reservation ponds, wetlands and the canals.
In the DMDP 1995-2015, flood control was given high priority. As part of that plan, they recommended around 30 flood retention ponds to be created and reserved alongside the banks of four surrounding rivers of Dhaka city. Many of these pond areas were under private control used mostly for agricultural purpose as these were the lowest land surrounding Dhaka city. Thorough recommendations were made to retain those lands from private control in exchange of government lands at other places. The plan also prohibited construction of structures in detail where some moujas with restricted construction zones were identified. But unfortunately, those prohibitions are not in action.
Our Dhaka city is growing very fast in terms of new high-rise buildings, new offices and lots of new citizens coming to Dhaka. Whenever we intend to build a building or structure, we need to pass the designs from RAJUK or previously known DIT for each building. This plan defines the height of the building but that does not dictate on which level (height from the road or water level) the building should be constructed.
The road level (RL) is not fixed for different zones. In that scenario, many buildings are being built under the road level or water level. That is driving these buildings or roads to go under the water level and rain water gets logged and flows on the roads or inside the buildings. And the water gets stuck as there is no place to roll. If the roads and buildings are built at a higher level, then that automatically increases the depth of the adjacent canals and more water can be contained in those canals without much extra effort of the government.
To get rid of the waterlogging problem, along with the four rivers surrounding Dhaka city - Buriganga, Shitolokkha, Turag and Balu, the 54 identified canals need to be fully utilized. According to the District Administration, 26 canals are required to be recovered. Most of these canals are occupied by the land-grabbers with high political influences. We have observed multiple canal-recovery attempts by the DNCC and DSCC. But those remained as stunts as the attempts were not followed up and the scenario remained same.
If canals are to be recovered, it is important to build walkways, culverts or walls after recovering from the illegal grabbers like; at part of Ramchandrapur canal at Mohammadpur as that will protect the canals. There are very few canals still present in reality with no water flow due to no maintenance for years. Moreover, bottlenecks due to waste compilation at different points have increased troubles. So, the waste materials need to be removed very soon so that water can flow properly.
During the season of heavy rain, the water gets removed in three ways -- roll down, evaporation and land soak. For rolling down of the water, we need to identify proper road level at different zones of Dhaka city as well as free flood water flow zones are required. We need open space for containing flood water for quicker evaporation. But violating the Water Conservation Law 2000, most of the canals and ponds are grabbed.
Moreover, Construction Rules 2008 stated to leave a certain space at all sides of a building while constructing so that the water can be soaked by the raw land but these guidelines are mostly ignored by the owners of the structures and authority also failed severely to ensure the implementation of those laws. As the land is unable to soak water, the water level is going down very fast.
Dhaka city should have 5,523 acres of conserved water retention areas along with 20,093 acres of canals and rivers and 74,598 acres of flood flow zones according to Flood Action Plan and DAP. But in reality, we do not have those and it is becoming a disaster in terms of controlling flood in Dhaka city. In the mid of 1960s, the DND embankment was implemented to create flood-free area of 57 square kilometers and to produce crops through canal irrigation project. But after the 80s, there has been a rapid change in this area, and the irrigation project turned into residential, commercial and industrial plots.
A circular ring road through the embankments (Beribandh) surrounding Dhaka is a long-term demand which can address both waterlogging and traffic jam problem of this city but is long from implementation. The whole embankments surrounding Dhaka needs to be constructed. Moreover, many of the pumps at the sluice gates are always found in non-working condition during the monsoon, which creates havoc for the nearby citizens. Rather than reactively responding to that failure, we need to take proactive measures to address this issue.
WASA is collecting the revenue for both water supply and sewerage maintenance. But throughout the year waste materials, industry chemicals and silts are getting stored in our drains. High flow of water is required to clean those, which the WASA does not ensure and hence, the sewerage and drain water overflows in the monsoon.
In 1988, we suffered one of the worst floods in Dhaka city, which longed for around two months after few days of heavy rain. Our rivers are facing serious siltation; canals, ponds, wetlands are being grabbed; the water flow system is being clogged by heavy wastes - all these will destroy Dhaka city if upstream flood takes place in the upcoming days as there will be no space for the water to move away.
We had good plans regarding the water and flood management system stated in DMDP 1995-2015, which was to be reviewed after 2015. But rather than implementing that plan properly, we are implementing new plans every year. When we make a plan, we should focus on implementing that first and then review and add back. We hope the government and relevant authority will take strong steps to implement taken plans to save Dhaka city and other cities like Chittagong. Then only, the monsoon will be a natural blessing rather than a nightmare for the citizens.
The writer is chief editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela