WHEN rain submerges various parts of the capital Dhaka just before the monsoon, fears for massive water stagnation in the full season, with the agencies concerned remaining indifferent, are worth looking into. Relevant authorities should, therefore, attend to the issue earnestly towards working out a permanent solution as water stagnation, not just in the capital but also in outlying areas, and especially if prolonged, can have dire consequences on several counts. It could create social problems by disrupting traffic movement and straining normal life. It could create physical problems by damaging infrastructure such as buildings and roads by way of subsidence and other such issues. It could have harmful environmental impact by way of water pollution, an increase in water-borne disease incidence and damage of vegetation and aquatic habitat. It could also create economic problems by increasing construction and maintenance cost and eating away potential income of citizens. A small amount of rainfall, only 90 millimetres as recorded in the capital on Monday, caused immeasurable sufferings to a large number of people in some city areas by way of water stagnation.
A situation like this vis-à-vis the harmful aspects of water stagnation only foretells what could be in store, not just this monsoon but also in years to come, during the full monsoon if the authorities concerned do not wake up to the reality. As the capital city grew around a natural drainage system — about a half of Dhaka is said to have been low-lying flood plains and natural water bodies even in 1947 — more than 35 canals that criss-crossed the city, and drained out 80 per cent of the city areas to the rivers that surrounded Dhaka, coming to be grabbed, fully or partially, and dirt-filled over the years has only weakened the gravity drainage system, exposing life and the living to a severe threat. The situation has been further compounded by uncoordinated city development work. Almost all experts, however, put down the problem of water stagnation to the disappearance of the canals and they all hold brief for the reclamation of the canals so that the natural drainage system could be revitalised. While drives to reclaim the canals remain stalled, for various reasons, and the town planning authorities keep cutting down on flood flow zones and retention ponds every time they come up with a master plan for city development, supply water authorities, in charge of the maintenance of a fifth of the city drainage system, and the city authorities, in charge of the maintenances of four-fifths of the drainage system, only seek to pass the blame onto each other.
All the authorities concerned should understand that the problem entails public sufferings and economic issues; and a blame game will lead to no resolution. The government must, therefore, work out a comprehensive plan to reclaim the grabbed canals to increase the scope for natural drainage, rework the drainage system, control development on city fringes and coordinate yearly city development work before Dhaka hurtles towards a disaster. It must also make all agencies concerned do their tasks in a more coordinated way.
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