Why is Chattogram drowning?
It is unacceptable that despite spending huge amounts of money and making many lofty promises over the years, the government has failed to address Chattogram's waterlogging problem. The situation this year has been so bad, in fact, that the port city has gone under water 10 times in the past seven months. Following the most recent heavy rainfall, at least 40 percent of the city's area has gone under water, affecting at least 15 lakh people. Aside from causing immense suffering for ordinary people, this has also caused massive losses for businesses and farmers.
According to a 2021 study, Tk 463 crore losses were incurred in one year alone around Khatungonj and its nearby areas in Chattogram due to waterlogging. Most recently, unloading of goods from larger vessels at the outer anchorage of Chattogram Port had to be suspended due to rough seas since Friday, while trade at the Khatunganj-Chaktai wholesale hub has dropped significantly. As unloading of goods from bulk carriers at the jetties and delivery of goods have considerably slowed down, at least 25 cargo vessels carrying over 800,000 tonnes of goods have been stranded at the outer anchorage. These vessels are carrying very important goods including wheat, raw sugar, soybean oil, fertilisers, as well as industrial raw materials – a lot of which might get damaged unless they are brought back on land quickly. Additionally, importers are having to pay huge amounts to shipping companies for the use of their vessels beyond schedule. And all of these losses might soon get transferred over to the consumers, leading to another round of price surges.
Over the past six years, the government has spent Tk 5,790 crore to address Chattogram's waterlogging problem, but to no avail. Out of the 40 sluice gates it was supposed to construct during this time, only five have so far been complete. The Chattogram Development Authority (CDA), which is implementing a Tk 11,344 crore mega project to mitigate waterlogging, had said before the monsoon that this year's inundation would be less than that of previous years due to digging of many canals to mitigate the problem. Blaming the Chattogram City Corporation (CCC), its chief engineer said that the city's drainage system has become ineffective because the CCC has not been cleaning the drains properly. An official from the CCC, meanwhile, has blamed the CDA's failure to complete and hand over the canals for the waterlogging problem.
While the same blame game that we have seen previously is again being played out, it is the people and businesses that are ultimately losing out. And the fault must fall squarely on the shoulders of the authorities, who have failed to properly coordinate and take responsibility for addressing Chattogram's waterlogging problem over the span of many years. This needs to change. We call upon the government to hold the different organisations entrusted with this responsibility to account, and urgently implement the necessary projects to alleviate the sufferings of the people.