The Khatunganj-Chaktai market, one of Bangladesh's largest wholesale hubs for household essentials, is losing its position as the country's top trade centre owing to seasonal waterlogging, lack of proper infrastructure management, corruption and poor road connectivity, among other barriers, experts say.
Businesses have underscored the need to conduct a thorough study on the economic impact of waterlogging and other difficulties faced in the area.
The study will help formulate effective solutions for a comprehensive project in the future that will aim to return the trade centre to its former glory, they said.
About 3,000 firms, including 250 wholesale shops and 5,000 warehouses, are located in Khatunganj and the adjoining Chaktai and Asadganj areas, where waterlogging alone inflicts losses of several hundred crores of taka each year.
"Traders in Khatunganj have endured huge losses due to waterlogging for the past 15 years," said Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI).
"Government organisations such as the Chattogram City Corporation (CCC), the Chattogram Development Authority (CDA), the Chattogram Wasa and the Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) need to coordinate in order to mitigate waterlogging in an effective way," he said.
He cited numerous unsuccessful attempts by government bodies to solve the problem in the past.
"Khatunganj is gripped by major challenges such as poor infrastructure, drainage and the encroachment of Chaktai canal," said Khandakar Shabbir Ahmed a professor of the Department of Architecture at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, while delivering a presentation on the primary findings of a study.
Narrow entrance road causes gridlock for hours and there is a lack of truck terminals. Trust is an issue which hampers trading as fraudsters enjoy impunity, said Ahmed.
They spoke at an inception workshop styled "Private Sector Resilience Study" at the Bangabandhu Conference Hall of the World Trade Centre in Chattogram yesterday.
The event was organised by the National Resilience Programme (NRP) and the Programme Division of the Planning Commission in association with the CCCI and attended by several business leaders and senior officials from various government organisations.
During the workshop, the Planning Commission announced that it would conduct two separate studies on the economic impact of waterlogging on local trade -- A Study on Khatunganj, Chattogram and an Industrial Sector Risk Profile for Chattogram -- with assistance from the NRP and technical partner United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Planning Division Secretary Md Nurul Amin stressed the need to formulate risk management plans ahead of the launch of any project to ensure sustainable development.
The NRP will help conduct the studies as a part of the organisation's duty to promote risk-informed development and resilience practices in private sector investment, said Nurun Nahar, deputy chief of the NRP and the project director.
The first study will identify the economic impact of waterlogging on the local trade in the port city and make recommendations on how to minimise risk.
It will also try to outline how waterlogging in the area may be associated with climate change as a hydro-meteorological and planning problem by identifying natural, man-made and planetary threats.
This includes tidal flooding, encroachment, erosion, solid waste drainage, soil permeability, excessive rainfall and a rise in sea level.
The Institute of Water Modelling (IWM) of the water resources ministry has been hired as the consultant firm to carry out the second study.
Bangladesh stands third among the countries most hit by natural disasters in the Global Climate Risk Index 2020.
The country faced 191 large-scale climate-related disasters between 1991 and 2018, said IWM Director Mollah Md Awalad Hossain.
Bangladesh incurred losses of about $1.69 billion over the past 20 years due to climate change and this accounts for 0.41 per cent of the total GDP, he added.
The study will aim at developing a risk profile for the industrial sector in order to provide industrialists, decision-makers and authorities an effective planning approach to minimising the loss and damages caused by climate change and natural disasters.
Forum For a Planned Chattogram leader Zarina Hossain, CPA Member (Admin) Md Zafar Alam, CDA Executive Engineer Ahmed Mainuddin, CCC Chief Engineer Rafiqul Islam and CCCI Director Syed M Tanvir, among others, spoke at the event.