Water stagnation in the capital and Chittagong persist despite pledges made by the respective city mayors. What needs to be done to address the problem immediately?

Dhaka city

— New Age/Sony Ramany

Water logging is a burden for the dwellers of Dhaka city and it has created an adverse impact on society, the economy and the environment. Chittagong is known for its beauty and mountains but it is also a home to some of the climacteric disasters. One of the problems in Chittagong is water–logging. The mayors of these two cities came up with pledges to resolve this problem but it is still a nagging problem.
Necessity to extend human habitation because of rapid population growth has caused people to encroach on retention areas and natural drainage paths in both Dhaka and Chittagong cities. Excessive rainfall, inadequate drainage systems, natural siltation, absence of inlets and outlets, indefinite drainage outlets, lack of proper maintenance of existing drainage system, and over and above disposal of solid waste into the drains and drainage paths are also the prime causes of blockage in drainage system which gives rise to water-logging. Seasonal tidal effect and the topography of Chittagong city also cause water-logging.
The mayors of Dhaka City Corporations at a roundtable on 29 August, 2015 said that they would work to resolve the problem of water- logging in the capital taking a long-term plan in this regard. ‘We know that the residents of Dhaka city are suffering immensely due to water- logging, particularly during the monsoon. We have already taken some initiatives to resolve the crisis,’ they said.
Chittagong city mayor said his first priority would be to address the water-logging problem of the port city. He promised to turn the city into a ‘dream mega-city’ free of water-logging and garbage.
Recently, visitors faced this problem while visiting Amar Ekushey book fair in Dhaka on February 24 and the authorities were forced to close the fair temporarily. Chittagong City Corporation is yet to get any sustainable solution to this problem that causes the city dwellers to suffer most.
Mayors plan to take steps to eradicate this problem but their plan is never successfully implemented. There are some suggestions to resolve this issue, which are as follows :

i) A comprehensive legislation for solid waste management is urgently needed, which should cover the collection and disposal of all categories of wastes to avert any danger to the environment.
ii) Dhaka City Corporation in association with ward commissioners and NGOs should hold meetings to make people aware of the problem. The media can also raise public awareness to resolve this problem.
iii) Immediate steps should be taken by the authorities concerned to remove all blockages in the drainage systems and unauthorised constructions from grabbed lands by enforcing relevant rules.

As the government and development authorities have no control over the weather, they need to act in collaboration with non-governmental organisations and civil society to promote an effective partnership to resolve the problem of water-logging.
Fariha Sharmin
University of Dhaka

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Water stagnation in the capital Dhaka and Chittagong persists despite pledges made by their respective city mayors. What needs to be done to address the problem immediately? From my perspective, it is a technical issue that can be better addresses by the city dwellers. Though we have urban planners both in the government and the civil society they unfortunately have not been able to solve the problem. I understand that both these cities are poorly and haphazardly planned with land grabbers fighting to take all the catchment areas of these cities, which are essential for natural water drainage system. What has compounded the problem is that effective governance is also missing.
If power and influence can be utilised to illegally rob the city of its catchment areas and build mini real estate empires then we the citizens need to be more vocal about our elected representatives who are failing miserably to enforce rules for better governance.
There is the issue of drainage system itself. We must not forget that Dhaka was never designed to accommodate a population of 10 million and the chaos it has created in the city’s infrastructure can be frequently felt with the overflowing of sewage water on roads with a little rain. Not only the drainage system fails to get the water out but it becomes a disgusting combo when sewage water gets mixed up with rain water.
If the city corporations could make it possible to harvest rain water it could serve as drinking water for those who still lack any access to fresh drinking water. Cities in these days have to become smarter, sustainable and energy-efficient but our two most important cities fail to function normally. Dhaka’s population seems to have learnt to live even with this kind of pollution and to them it does not seem to be a highly abnormal thing.
The mayors need to sit down at the table and plan Dhaka and Chittagong’s infrastructure overhaul. With both these cities still growing rapidly, (Dhaka’s projected population in 2025 is 22 million), we cannot afford to ignore these problems. We need to come up with immediate solutions. We need our leaders to plan for the future to make these megalopolises sustainable with the support of proactive citizenry.
Khan Mohammad Faisal
Independent University, Bangladesh

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Water stagnation occurs when water stops flowing. Stagnant water is a major environmental hazard. It becomes a severe problem for our country especially in the mega cities like Dhaka and Chittagong. It disrupts the city life during the monsoon, when many places in cities undergo water.
People of mega cities like Dhaka, Chittagong and other populated cities have valid reasons to be worried as it is they who suffer from the problems caused by water-logging. For example, after slight rainfall, many areas of Dhaka such as Mouchak, Farmgate, Dhanmondi and Bijay Sarani and other places get completely inundated. This scenario is not only common in Dhaka, but also in other populated cities in Bangladesh. As there are no proper manholes on many streets of the cities to flush out water, it becomes difficult for drivers to drive their automobiles. In such circumstances, pedestrians have to suffer while commuting through the city streets during the rainy season. Increased traffic jams due to water stagnation cause terrible sufferings to office and school goers and other commuters. Many pedestrians fall into manholes without covers while wading through water covering highways and roads. It is a common plight of the residents during monsoon, the only difference is that water stagnation increases on broken and ill-maintained streets and lanes of Dhaka city. Apparently, there is no one to address this recurring problem. People are forced to wade through water on several streets and lanes even in posh neighbourhoods. Acute water-logging disrupts normal life in most areas of Dhaka and Chittagong. Water stagnation has a serious impact on public health as rain water mixes with dumped wastes, toxins from drains and even weak sewerage systems. In many areas, water supply connections are contaminated and people have to go far to collect drinking water. People often face skin diseases, malaria and other water-borne diseases during this season.
Structural causes are one of the main contributors behind the problem of water-logging. Rapid urbanisation, unplanned digging of roads for maintenance purpose, unplanned and unsecured drainage system, shrinking of natural drainage and wetlands due to unauthorised land-filling and illegal constructions over canals are contributing to water stagnation. Thanks to rampant land grabbing, most of the canals around Dhaka, which work as outlets for rain water, have ceased to exist and urban planners have always identified this as the main reason behind the capital city’s water stagnation problem.
Improper management is another major contributor. Governing authorities do not have any long-term and coordinated plans to address the problem of water-logging. The government has failed to establish any control over unauthorised and unplanned developments that are occupying canals and water bodies in and around cities. It does not even bother to supervise the digging of roads during monsoon by WASA, Rajuk, City Corporations and other private developers. Mayors of Dhaka and Chittagong City Corporations have pledged to solve water- logging problems several times.
Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority has the responsibility to look after the drainage of 39 per cent area of the capital. DWASA with its 10 km of box culverts and four pumping stations drains water from about 140 square km area of the total 360-square km capital into 65km open canals. DWASA’s drainage pumping stations are located at Dholaikhal, Kallayanpur, Rampura and Janapath. The two city corporations maintain around 2,500 km of surface drains and around 4,000 km of underground drains.
According to experts, there could be no improvement of the situation unless DWASA recovers its 26 canals. WASA’s clogged outlets obstruct the passage of water into its canals and WASA rarely cleans its outlets. On July 11, 2003, the government decided to bring the drainage system under the control of Dhaka City Corporation or DWASA. There has been no progress on the issue ever since.
The government should start cleaning drains in February at least so that the passage for rain water is clear. But they wake up only in May when monsoon is knocking at the door. At that time debris collected from the drain is left on the banks of water bodies. Water harvesting from lakes and ponds is a time-tested solution. The need of the hour is not just to control floods but also to fulfill our water requirements locally. Rain water is actually destined to get absorbed by ground water so every citizen has to take the initiative to recharge it. When somebody constructs a house it is his/her responsibility to take care of the excess water from that plot of land, which would otherwise go into a storm water drain or else create water-logging around the plot.
The solution to this problem is a proper rain water harvesting system in the house itself. It would not just replenish ground water but also improve its quality and mitigate flooding. Five per cent of any built up area, be it for an apartment complex or an individual house, if used for rainwater harvesting, it can mitigate floods. Some towns in Germany have made it mandatory for construction projects to take the responsibility of their excess water or to pay more for putting pressure on storm water drains.
Rain water harvesting is what all individuals can do at the moment with the help of the administration. Storm water drains could be utilised as a water harvesting measure rather than as carriers of excess water to the sea. Recharge-wells can be constructed in open spaces around storm water drains. Water in drains can be intercepted and directed to these wells. In areas where open spaces are not available, recharge-wells can be dug in the drain itself under the man-hole so that it can be cleaned from time to time. The government should also take necessary steps to free all the illegally occupied lands on and near water bodies from the hands of grabbers.
MD Imam Hossain
Fareast International University

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Water stagnation in the capital and Chittagong city has been a common problem over the years. Specially, during rainy season the situation becomes miserable for the city dwellers. Each and every person of these cities fall a prey to this problem at that time. Water stagnation creates different kinds of problems. People cannot move freely because of this. It hampers natural movement of vehicles as well. The sufferings of school- and office- going people know no bounds. It is a common sight that during the rainy season small kids go to schools getting school dresses wet in Dhaka and Chittagong. As vehicles cannot move quickly, they often create traffic congestion in cities. Even water stagnation causes accidents on the roads of Dhaka and Chittagong sometimes. It also reduces expected productivity of city dwellers. Besides, polluted water spreads water-borne diseases in affected areas. Understandably, the poor people including slum dwellers are the main victims of water stagnation.
Dhaka and Chittagong city corporation elections were held a few days ago. City dwellers of these cities have got their new mayors elected now. Resolving water stagnation problem was an important issue in the manifesto of mayoral candidates. They assured that if they were elected they would resolve this problem first. But we have not seen any visible steps taken by city mayors to resolve this problem thus far. It, therefore, seems to be a part of our political culture that our political leaders come up with lots of promises before elections but after being elected they forget all about their promises. However, it would not be wise to judge the activities of our mayors in this manner. They also have their own limitations such as budget constraints and scarcity of capable workers. City corporations are mainly involved with distributing birth certificates, character certificates and licences and registering different organisations. So, we do not think that our city corporations will be able to solve this problem overnight singlehandedly.
However, our mayors need to be committed to eradicate this problem. The government also needs to extend its helping hands to the city corporations to resolve this problem. Short-term and long-term plans should be chalked up by authorities concerned. There had been no city mayors in Dhaka City Corporations for a long time. As today’s city mayors are public representatives they will understand public woes. And, therefore, we also hope that drainage systems in Dhaka and Chittagong cities would be improved in no time under the leadership of our mayors and we will get rid of this problem very soon.
Naim Ebna Rahman
University of Dhaka

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