Bangladesh on Thursday decided to open emergency flood shelters in 23 districts as the country braced for a rapid worsening of the flood situation over the coming week.
The decision to open flood shelters came 14 days after first monsoon flood hit Bangladesh affecting over 13 lakh people in 14 districts.
Thousands are living on the embankments under the open skies or in polythene tents after losing their homes to erosion or getting their houses submerged in floodwater since June 26.
‘Bangladesh is going through difficult times with disasters striking the country one after the other,’ said Enamur Rahman, state minister, disaster management and relief ministry.
The minister attended an online briefing after hosting an inter-ministerial coordination meeting to decide ways to tackle floods during the COVID-19 crisis.
‘Local government officials have been asked to prepare as many shelters as possible for flood victims ensuring social distancing,’ said Enam.
‘The flood is going to stay for a while and we will need to evacuate many people,’ he said.
The government appeared rather slow in responding to the first monsoon floods that came with a plenty of warnings.
Huge rains under the influence of super cyclone Amphan swelled rivers to unusual levels in early June, when monsoon set in to deteriorate the situation further.
Floods wreaked havoc for days in the upstream areas such as Assam and Meghalaya, giving Bangladesh plenty of time to prepare for it.
Meanwhile, shelters that the government built long ago for accommodating erosion and flood victims in northern Bangladesh now lie in ruins.
New Age correspondent in Lalmonirhat reported that 26,900 people live on embankments in five flood-hit districts in Rangpur division according to official estimates.
None chose to go seek shelter in any of the 44 emergency shelters in the division with a total capacity to accommodate 33,600 people.
The shelters were not repaired in years and locals turned them into giant garbage bins littered with animal and human faeces all over.
‘We could put maximum 15 of the shelters to use after repair but the rest are in too bad a shape to be used,’ said Rangpur divisional commissioner KM Tariqul Islam.
Local government officials said that they could not help the situation as the government never cared about maintaining the shelters at a liveable condition.
‘Erosion and floods have always been there, displacing dozens of families every year,’ said Abdul Hakim, chairman, Saula union parishad, Pirgacha, Rangpur.
‘We wrote ceaselessly explaining about the importance of these emergency shelters around here but no effort seemed enough to make the government understand,’ he said.
This year at least 2,409 people got their homes devoured by rivers in Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Gaibandha, Nilphamari and Rangpur.
Four villages got wiped off the map of northern Bangladesh in last two weeks.
‘We live where huge volume of water enter Bangladesh and we were the first to lose our homes on June 24, even before the flood started,’ said Ainul, who lives on an embankment at Pirgacha, Rangpur.
‘None came here to help us ever since,’ he said.
Enam said that each of the 23 districts likely to experience worse flooding was allocated 200 tonnes of rice, 2,000 packets of dry foods, Tk 5 lakh in cash and Tk 4 lakh for fodder and baby foods.
The River Teesta started swelling on Thursday as predicted by Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre.
On July 8, the FFWC said that rivers in the Brahmaputra, Ganges, Meghna and south-eastern hill basins would swell in phases from Thursday causing floods in 23 districts.
The FFWC predicted that the flooding may continue through the 3rd week of the month.
As predicted, upstream areas such as Assam and Meghalaya, West Bengal and Sikkim, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh experienced widespread rains on Thursday.
The places are likely to get extremely heavy rain until Sunday, predicted India Meteorological Department.
Extremely heavy rain was recorded in Bangladesh with the FFWC recording the country’s highest rainfall of 135 mm in the 24 hours until 9:00am Thursday at Sunamganj.
Over 160 million people live in Bangladesh in 64 districts.
Floods are common during monsoon in Bangladesh which drains much of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin spanning 1.7 million square kilometres in India, China, Nepal, and Bhutan.
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