Aila woes worsen
As the plight of villagers intensifies on a vast swath of coastal land hit by cyclonic storm Aila ten months ago, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will meet disaster and water officials tomorrow to find a solution to perennial water logging in the region.
Meantime, the government's climate fund is yet to be channelled to the Aila victims despite repeated calls from different corners because of sloth decision-making.
Worst still, although the Water Development Board (WDB) received Tk 40 crore in cash, and
Tk 75 crore in wheat in July last year from the food ministry to repair breached embankments, it took them six months even to start the work.
The Aila victims are now on a desperate edge as new breaches developed in the embankment three days ago, inundating fresh areas with brackish water. For the last ten months, nothing grows on the inundated land, and cry for drinking water is peaking.
Quoting Aila victims, Food and Disaster Management Minister Md Abdur Razzaque told a group of reporters in his office yesterday that water level at the affected area has risen to a new height this year. "People of the region have not seen such a rise in the past," the minister said.
A visibly unhappy Razzaque said over the last couple of months they made desperate attempts to repair the breaches in the embankments.
"We even engaged the army to repair and protect the embankments in a bid to save people from being marooned, but water is gushing through newer breaches, flooding more villages," the minister said.
He said the reason behind the situation is nothing but the delay in starting the repair work. "Repairing of the damaged embankments should have been completed by January. But Water Development Board could not do so for various reasons," Razzaque added.
The government sent troops to Aila affected areas on March 16 this year to assist in rebuilding the embankments. They are trying to repair the embankments, but the move came too late, leading to newer breaches in the embankments causing increased flooding in the area.
"It is now impossible to repair the embankments and stop flooding, the situation is going out of control," a WDB official observed.
Contacted by The Daily Star last night, Water Resources Minister Ramesh Chandra Sen could not give any clear cut answer to why the repair work had been delayed despite funding being available on time.
Cyclone Aila hit the country's coastal areas on May 25 last year claiming lives of 190 people and 150,131 livestock, and affecting 3,928,238 more people damaging 613,778 houses, destroying crops on 323,454 acres of land, and damaging 1,742.53 kilometres stretch of embankments, according to an official record of the food and disaster management ministry.
At tomorrows meeting the government will discuss technical details of how to stop the flooding, cutting the losses already incurred, if already flooded areas are beyond salvation -- as experts warn that several thousand acres of land are permanently submerged due to the breaches in the embankments.
The government is also likely to request the international community to pay special attention to Bangladesh, one of the worst victims of global warming, for helping the country in climate change adaptation.
"We are planning to urge the international community to conduct a research in the country to see how climate change and rise in water level is causing disasters in coastal areas," the food and disaster management minister told a group of reporters in his office yesterday.
In July last year food and disaster management ministry sought Tk 11,000 crore from donor countries and agencies for rehabilitation of the Aila victims, construction of embankments and cyclone centres, and to create employment opportunities in coastal areas.
"But the international response in this regard has been very disappointing so far," said an official of the food and disaster management ministry. He said only one or two European countries promised to give $50 million. Japan in a separate arrangement already donated Tk 114 crore for setting up water treatment plants in the Aila-hit areas, he added.
The food and disaster management minister recently expressed deep frustration over the poor response of the international community to Bangladesh's pleas for international help in climate change adaptation.