Date: Sat, 5 Sep 98 17:11:11 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: BANGLADESH: Record Floods are a Human, Economic Emergency
Article: 42627
To: undisclosed-recipients:;;
Message-ID: <>

/** ips.english: 481.0 **/
** Topic: BANGLADESH: Record Floods are a Human, Economic Emergency **
** Written 4:07 PM Sep 3, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Record Floods are a Human, Economic Emergency

By Tabibul Islam, InterPress Service, 31 August 1998

DHAKA, Aug 31 (IPS)—Bangladesh has learnt to live with the fickle forces of nature and its floods, but the unprecedented wave of flooding in recent weeks is nothing less than an emergency sapping its financial resources and economic health.

The prolonged floods, which some estimates say have put two-thirds of the country under water, are described as the worst in the known history of Bangladesh.

Nearly 60 percent of the total area of Dhaka city, covering 350 sq km, has been inundated and people have been moving about by small boats in water-filled streets.

So far, the floods have affected 30 million people and at least 400 people have died. They have caused extensive damage to infrastructure, agriculture and rice lands.

“It has become an emergency now and the government has decided to seek foreign help to avert a crisis,” said Finance Minister Sams Kibria.

Experts say the floods, triggered by heavy monsoon rains and high tide in the Bay of Bengal, are more severe than the catastrophic floods of 1988, which had destroyed property and infrastructures worth 2 billion U.S. dollars.

The water level in the 1988 flood remained above the danger mark for only 15 days, but this year it has been above the red mark for more than 38 days as of Aug 27, they said. Floods have been battering Bangladesh since the second week of July.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina—for which management of the flood disaster is a political test as well — has sought emergency assistance of 608.39 million dollars. It has also asked for 1.38 million metric tonnes of foodgrains for relief and post-flood rehabilitation.

Government officials met with representatives of donor countries and multilateral organisations on Aug 26, and have also asked affluent citizens to pitch in.

The floods have forced Hasina to cancel a visit to South Africa for the Non-Aligned Movement summit on Sept 2. Instead, she has been barnstorming flood-affected areas.

While floodwaters are slowly receding in some districts, it is rising in most other districts, destroying dwelling houses, industrial establishments and washing away infrastructure.

Experts expect the floods to continue at least until the first week of September, because of the fresh onrush of waters from the upstream of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers. This, in turn, is due to heavy downpours in the Himalaya and Meghalaya hilly terrains in the past few days.

“There is no hope of immediate improvement of the flood situation before the next full moon,” a hydrologist said.

But beyond the actual flooding, Bangladesh is already counting the cost of the disaster on food supplies, public health, and the economy.

The country may have to import more than 2 million tonnes of rice and wheat in the current fiscal year. The floods have destroyed half a million tonnes of rice in more than 0.4 million hectares of land, and prevented farmers from planting major aman paddy.

An estimated 10 million labourers have been thrown out of employment. Some 6.5 million workers are now jobless in the agricultural worker sector alone, state minister for disaster management and relief Talukder Abdul Khaleque says.

Those people who have been moved to shelters have only a slightly easier time, as the threat of diseases grows with scarcity of clean drinking water in all submerged areas.

Already, waterborne diseases have broken out in all flood-hit areas of the country. On average, 700 to 1,000 people suffering from diarrhoea, mostly children, come to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases centre in Dhaka every day for treatment.

Many hand tubewells have been choked up by floodwaters, compelling people to drink polluted water from rivers, canals and ponds.

Among the measures taken by the Hasina government has been the sanctioning of 2 million dollars for emergency agriculture rehabilitation in flood-hit areas.

Some 300 distressed families in each of nearly 3,000 unions will be provided with vulnerable group feeding cards. Repayment of agricultural loans has been withheld for one year in flood-hit areas and new loans offered to farmers on easier terms to buy seeds and fertiliser.

To many, however, these seem inadequate compared to the needs of the affected people.

Many Bangladeshis, looking at the handling of this disaster as a challenge for Hasina in the run-up to general elections in 2001, say she has to ensure that relief materials and cash assistance are not misused or misappropriated by corrupt officials and greedy politicians.

Meantime, the floods have reopened questions about the country's flood and disaster control programmes.

Thus far, the construction of hundreds of kilometres of embankments has not been able to tame perennial floods. On the contrary, embankments, roads and highways have obstructed the natural flow of floodwaters and aggravated the situation more seriously.

The 4 billion dollar Flood Action Plan (FAP) has come under criticism for going against the environment. Moreover, the maintenance of earthen dams to protect lands from floods will entail a huge recurring expenditure every year which the government can ill afford, experts add.

Some experts have underlined the need for the dredging of rivers, in order deepen them and allow them to carry more water.

Hasina has underlined the need for massive dredging of rivers to store floodwater for the lean seasons, save people from recurrent floods and create new lands through reclamation.