Chief lesson from Cyclone Aila
THE most important lesson which can be drawn from Cyclone Aila, which last week hit south-western Bangladesh, is that a comprehensive programme regarding the construction and maintenance of embankments needs to be put in place. It is an issue about which the inhabitants of cyclone-prone areas are acutely aware, for they themselves have been demanding that more than anything else it is strong embankments they need. In effect, what they have been saying is that if they have embankments to protect themselves, they can take care of everything else.
That is certainly a forceful argument. Cyclone Aila has patently demonstrated the afflictions that can result from weak embankments. In this past week, survivors of the disaster have suffered badly from the salinity which has not only stopped their sources of clean drinking water but has also damaged crops, cattle and homesteads. They would have been spared such an ordeal if purposefully built embankments had been there. As it is, following Sidr in November 2007, not much of repair work was done on the embankments and indeed hardly any new ones were built as a precaution against subsequent natural disasters. Besides, the embankments that were there (most of them have been damaged or washed away by Aila) were fragile because the materials used to construct them were not expected to withstand shocks. It is regrettable but true that embankments in Bangladesh have by and large been built of mud. Small wonder then that they will collapse in the face of a strong assault by the forces of nature. Again, in many instances the heights of the embankments did not conform to accepted standards or standards that reflected the realities in Bangladesh.
In light of the collapse of the embankments caused by Cyclone Aila, it becomes important that serious, meaningful steps be taken to repair the damage caused last week, raise the existing height of the embankments and where necessary build new ones. A special task force may be set up to study the present condition of the embankments, to take stock of them as it were, and follow it up by taking measures to construct more lasting embankments to deal with future calamities. As an additional measure towards securing the embankments, an overall, well-thought out plan for a green belt along the coastline ought to be put in place. The bottom line is simple: the future, when it comes to dealing with natural calamities, should not be a repeat of the past.