THE 100-year programme called the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2021 that the government has taken up for a better management of natural resources of the deltaic Bangladesh has raised a debate as experts think that the intended outcomes would not come through with the flaws of the plan having been in place. The National Economic Council in September 2018 approved the plan, initially with 80 projects to be implemented in 10 years involving a cost of $37 billion. The plan envisages Bangladesh to be divided into six hotspots, based on hydrological characteristics, for building infrastructure to control the environment, mostly focused on sustainable water management. The hotspots are the coastal zones, the Barind and drought-prone areas, haor and flash-flood areas, major rivers and adjoining areas, urban areas and the Chattogram Hill Tracts. Under the plan, polders will be constructed in the coastal regions, a cross-dam will be erected on the River Meghna at Urir Char, barrages will be constructed across major rivers such as the Padma, the main distributary of the River Ganges, and the River Jamuna, and embankments and highways will be laid out in haor regions. The government hopes that the plan would bring prosperity, ensure food security and provide a safeguard against natural calamities and adverse impact of climate change.
But experts, mainly geologists and hydrologists, are sceptical of any of the benefits that the government envisages and they think that the plan would rather expose to threat the natural equilibrium that has sustained the world’s largest delta for centuries. Polders are feared to threaten the deltaic land formation and interrupt natural water flow, thereby, harming the process of land elevation. The extension of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta towards the sea is thought to have taken place in 11,000 years because of unhindered land elevation. In cases of breaches in the polders, protected areas are thought to be suffering prolonged inundation where the pumping out of water would be very difficult. A cross-dam on the Meghna might cause land accretion but could harm tidal activities, harm the life cycles of many aquatic animals and create environmental phenomena that humans would need to struggle to cope with. Barrages are feared to narrow down the river channels and to double the impact of the Farakka Barrage, causing the intrusion of salinity to create drinking water scarcity and reducing the supply of sediment. Embankments and highways in the haor regions are feared to be blocking natural water flow, harming the natural draining system. Government officials seek to say that there is the need to destroy to create, but there is also a limit, as experts say, to the extent humans are allowed to play with the nature.
Government officials say that the plan has been adopted after extensive consultations with engineers, scientists and experts and 26 baseline surveys, yet scientists at home and abroad in January put out a call for a revision of the plan to dispense with the flaws. A plan as big as this, if implemented, might leave irreversible impact on the environment. The government must, therefore, make everything related to the plan public and put them to debates by scientists, experts and people, the stakeholders, who would come to be affected by the plan.
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