Waterlogging in Dhaka: Collective failure made it perennial | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:27 AM, August 29, 2020

Waterlogging in Dhaka: Collective failure made it perennial

Experts say only city corporations taking over drainage management won’t solve it

The desire expressed by the two Dhaka city mayors to take over the responsibility of drainage management from Dhaka Wasa in a bid to end the capital's perennial waterlogging problem has widely been regarded as a popular idea.

But experts said just changing the custodian without addressing the core issues that have failed Wasa -- such as the absence of total authority of one particular body and lack of coordination with six other organisations -- might also fail the two city corporations.

The idea of handing over the drainage management to city corporations came to light last month when the two mayors -- Dhaka South's Shekih Fazle Noor Taposh and Dhaka North's Atiqul Islam -- said theywished to take over the job.

They also criticised the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa) and Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) for their failure to solve the long-standing problem.

The two mayors blamed Wasa for failing to properly clean the canals, drains and box culverts under its jurisdiction, causing waterlogging in the city last month due to heavy rain. They also slammed BWDB for failing to pump out storm water in time after rain.

Of the total drainage lines in the capital, 385km is under Dhaka Wasa. This key utility service provider is also responsible for the maintenance of 26 canals with a total length of 74km and box culverts of 10km.

However, experts said it would be unfair to blame Wasa alone.

They said it was a collective failure -- of two city corporations that manages some 2,500km surface drains in the city, the deputy commissioner's office that owns canals and many water bodies, and the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) which owns city lakes including Hatirjheel and which is the custodian of many flood flow zones and retention areas.

Besides, Bashundhara Residential Area authorities and Cantonment Board are two entities who enjoy autonomy in water management of their respective areas.

"Several organisations are tasked with managing drainage in the city. That said, there is a culture of lack of coordination, unhealthy competition, and shifting blame, which compounds the waterlogging problem," read a Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) statement on July 26.

TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said the city corporations cannot avoid responsibility for the failure in drainage mismanagement and waste disposal by placing all the blame on Wasa.

He also questioned whether the 2,500km of drains under the jurisdiction of the city corporations are waste-free or operational.

Since it has been a shared responsibility and that has not worked to solve waterlogging in the capital, some experts think one organisation with full authority could be a possible solution.


Talking to this correspondent on Wednesday, Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam said they have requested the ministry concerned to hand them over the charge of Wasa regarding drainage system along with all manpower and equipment; otherwise, it will not be possible for them to play their role properly.

He said they want to get the jurisdiction over not only the canals but also the banks of the canals from the deputy commissioner's office so they can make plans to build walkways and plant trees to protect them from encroachment.

About flood flow zones, many of which have already been encroached upon or filled up, the mayor said coordination with Rajuk is extremely necessary in this regard.

As Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh is now abroad, The Daily Star could not reach him for comment.

However, during a coordination meeting held at the LGRD ministry on July 22, he blamed Dhaka Wasa and BWDB for the city's waterlogging.

While visiting some canals and pumping stations after the meeting, the mayor said the two entities -- mainly responsible for curbing waterlogging in the city -- did not carry out their duties properly.

"Although it is the duty of Wasa and the water development board to solve waterlogging, both the organisations have totally failed. Give us the duty to solve the problem through long-term planning."

City dwellers have been suffering for years because Wasa and BWDB have not been discharging their duties properly, he added.

In another programme organised by the LGRD ministry on August 13, Taposh expressed his resentment for the Detailed Area Plan not being implemented by Rajuk.

Asked about transferring the charge of drainage management, LGRD Minister Md Tazul Islam on August 16 said things are at an evaluation stage. And the whole process involves some legal issues and capacity building of the city corporations.

"It will take time and also the capacity of the city corporations will also have to be increased. Wasa has the manpower, technology and logistics. If we suddenly hand it [the responsibility of drainage management] over to the city corporations, both organisations might suffer," he added.


Under-fire Dhaka Wasa Managing Director Taqsem A Khan, who in his 11-year-long tenure has failed to provide safe drinking water to over one crore city dwellers and solve waterlogging, told The Daily Star in a recent interview that waterlogging during monsoon cannot be solved with only an artificial drainage system.

And in this context, Prof Adil Mohammad Khan said conservation of water bodies like rivers and canals, wetlands, water retention areas, and flood flow zones are all vital for drainage of storm water as well as for sustainable ecological balance, heat absorption and biodiversity.

The flood flow zones and lakes are under Rajuk. But over the last one decade, those zones have been greatly reduced due to encroachment, he added.

According to a 2019 study by the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), individuals, businesses, real-estate developers, organisations, and even government agencies have gobbled up 1,072 acres (57 percent) of the 1,879-acre flood flow zones in Dhaka metropolitan areas in this decade.

Since the official gazette on the city's Detailed Area Plan (DAP) was issued in 2010, the core city lost 3,440 acres out of 9,556 acres of flood flow zones, water retention areas, and water bodies till 2019, said Prof Adil Mohammed Khan, general secretary of the BIP.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said apart from the flood flow zones, Dhaka has lost almost all 50 of its canals that played a crucial role in its drainage.

Despite orders from the Apex Court, not a single canal has been recovered from the clutches of the grabbers. Land records have mostly been illegally tampered, resulting in private titles on canal lands, she said.


Dr Iftekharuzzaman said the two city corporations should be given the responsibility as civic organisations, and they should be the ones responsible for monitoring the work that is under the jurisdiction of Wasa.

He believes the responsibility of complete drainage management and the maintenance of sewerage, canals, and culverts, should be given to a single body. He suggested necessary amendments to the law for that to happen.

Iqbal Habib, joint secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon, said the idea of handing over the job to the two city corporations would only be fruitful if certain conditions are fulfilled.

All the manpower and equipment of the Wasa's drainage division will have to be under the city corporations.

Rajuk will have to engage the city corporations in the action plan and its implementation in line with the Detailed Area Plan (DAP). And there should be a law for this.

The water bodies and canals which are owned by the deputy commissioner's office will have to be leased out to the city corporations for their management.

Besides, the BWDB also will have to set up pumps according to the plan of the city corporations. A gazette notification will have to be issued so that BWDB does its job through a separate department coordinating with city corporations.

Finally, an integrated master plan will have to be taken to solve the problem and it will have to be executed properly, Habib concluded.

Expressing guarded optimism, Syeda Rizwana Hasan said, "The city corporations are overburdened and have not delivered as per legal mandates."

She added, "Instead of merely changing the regulatory authority, I would suggest that the National River Protection Commission be given a coordinating role and guide the restoration process to be undertaken by respective agencies in a coordinated manner."

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