Bangladesh struggles with train of natural disasters

International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction today

Emran Hossain | Published: 01:34, Oct 13,2020


At least one extreme disaster occurred every month over the last five months affecting lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh and killing about 300 people.

Today Bangladesh observes the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction along with many other member states of the United Nations.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate the day’s countrywide programme virtually by inducting 18,505 new cyclone preparedness women volunteers and distributing 17,005 disaster resilient houses among disasters victims.

‘We are building 220 new cyclone shelters, 423 new flood shelters and 550 new Mujib Killas to help people fight natural disasters,’ said state minister for disaster management and relief Enamur Rahman as he announced the programme on Monday. 

The country has been in the throes of disasters that struck over the last six months. A super cyclone thrashed the country in May, the next month saw the beginning of a flood the like of which was not seen in more than two decades, and then, in August, spring tide caused coastal rivers reach unprecedented heights, not seen even during the super cyclone.

In September, Rangpur, one of the oldest northern cities, saw the highest rainfall in its recorded history covering seven decades as the country got ravaged by another flood, the last thing expected at the time of the year.

Climate experts said that warming ocean was responsible for making natural disasters more intense.

‘So much water in rivers at this time of the year is highly unusual,’ Ainun Nishat, a water resource and climate change specialist, told New Age.

Parts of Bangladesh just surfaced after remaining under water for more than three weeks in an unusual flood that engulfed vast areas stretched from the north to the centre.

Parts of upstream areas across the border in India’s Bihar, West Bengal and Assam is also experiencing severe flooding with the Brahmaputra and the Ganges flowing above their danger marks.

‘The flood is undoubtedly an extreme weather event,’ said Nishat, who assisted UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prepare its 3rd assessment report and whose career in water resource engineering and management spans about five decades.

Nishat said that warmer ocean supplies more moisture leading to increased rain and intense flooding.

Although the ongoing flood began in mid-September, it turned severe overnight, after extreme rain battered some of the northern districts on September 26.

In 15 hours from 6:00pm on the day, Rangpur city received 433mm rainfall, the highest rainfall recorded since the Met Office began keeping record in 1947.

The highest ever daily rainfall of 294mm was recorded in the city in 2002, prompting housands of people to move to shelters due to flooding.

Meteorologists said that low pressures are an important feature of monsoon and they control the supply and direction of moisture from the Bay of Bengal with their cyclonic circulation.

But this year they observed some unique changes in the way low pressures formed.

Only one low pressure was formed in the first two monsoon months — June and July — against an average of once in three months.

The absence of such major monsoon system resulted in frequent and prolonged floods over north-eastern India and Bihar, said the IMD in an analysis of this year’s monsoon released in late September.

The prolonged flood also engulfed downstream areas in Bangladesh, wreaking havoc over a third of the country between June 26 and August 29.

On 20th and 21st August, coastal rivers swelled unusually, reaching the heights which the region did not experience even during the super cyclone Amphan in late May.

Six of the 14 coastal rivers monitored by the Water Development Board leaped up to 120cm above their danger levels, far above the record set during Amphan.

‘Too many strange weather incidents in less than half a year highlight the climate emergency we are caught in,’ said BUET’s Institute of Water and Flood Management professor AKM Saiful Islam, also the lead author on IPCC’s 6th assessment report.

A fresh new month has just begun with the forecast that another cyclone is likely in the month, implying that the train of extreme natural disasters is not yet over for Bangladesh.

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