THE sorry state of the canals in Dhaka is repeatedly pointed out by urban experts, and is admitted by government agencies, to be one of the major reasons behind the severe water stagnation in monsoon. While the government and city authorities always speak of addressing the problem by reclaiming the water-bodies, the problem continues and the issue remains largely unattended. After the recent heavy rain, severe rainwater stagnation became a common sight almost everywhere in the capital straining life, affecting road communications by way of traffic congestion, adding to the risk of road accidents and increasing the probability of health problems. Many areas of the capital went under knee-deep or even deeper water and are still suffering from it. There are, keeping to the data of the office of the deputy commissioner of Dhaka, 54 canals in Dhaka, while the Institute of Water Modelling has 50 of them on its list. The Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority maintains 26 of them that are central to the drainage network and the Bangladesh Water Development Board maintains 11 of the canals that are related to the Dhaka-Narayanganj-Demra Dam. Yet the city is, experts say, nearing a disaster as major portions of almost all the canals have been grabbed by government agencies, private organisations, realtors and influential individuals.
The existence of a few canals has been only on paper as they have all now been encroached. Many others are headed for the same fate in the absence of any action by the authorities concerned. The Flood Action Plan and the Detailed Area Plan of the city identified 5,523 acres of water retention areas, 20,093 acres of canals and rivers, and 74,598 acres of flood flow zones for preservation by the government, but about two-thirds of such areas have already been occupied by government agencies and powerful quarters. What is highly concerning is that about 2,000 acres of flood flow zones, according to different estimates, disappear every year, while of the projected 5,523 acres identified as water retention areas, only 1,744 acres were found existing in a RAJUK study in 2017. In 2016, after a massive waterlogging, the agencies concerned, including Dhaka South City Corporation, Dhaka WASA, district administration, police and Bangladesh Water Development, collectively took the initiative of listing grabbers and ensuring their eviction and eventually completed a list and ran a few piecemeal reclamation drives. The drives, however, proved to be futile as most of the evicted grabbers returned, while new ones have joined them.
The occupation of canals continues apace in the absence of any effective government move to sustainably carry out reclamation drives and sustained efforts to preserve them. The government must, therefore, take up an integrated approach, dealing with all factors that contribute to the plight, to reclaim and conserve the canals to stop the city from hurtling to a disaster.
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