There is a lot of development work going on to avert climate impacted vulnerabilities like flood, inundation, sea level rise etc. With the focus mostly in coastal areas embankments, are being built or repaired to protect the vulnerable populations from the impacts of increasing natural calamities.
Scholars and researchers have raised concerns on the efficacy of the development projects focussed on climate change. They argue that these projects are not undertaken with sufficient consideration of the complicated ecological surroundings.
These are rather creating serious negative impacts and bringing about irreversible changes in nature, and resulting in further vulnerabilities of the affected populace with a loss of livelihood, reduced scope of agriculture, aquaculture etc, due to waterlogging, sedimentation and induced erosion among other phenomena.
They claim that there is a serious disconnect between the premise of such projects drawn up to face climate vulnerabilities and the experience, knowledge and requirement of the local population. Hence instead of delivering the required wellbeing, they result in much more suffering. These projects are less than sustainable.
It may not, however, be wise to generalize this. There are projects which have delivered the desired outcome to people in overcoming such vulnerabilities thereby helping them survive and sustain their lives and livelihood.
The essence of such concern, if taken into cognizance, should result in deliberate study of problems by experts, including government agencies responsible for ensuring professional impact analysis and follow up corrective and protective measures.
We also hear from people in the coastal areas that their vital safeguard — the embankment — had been constructed many decades back. These have been battered by winds and waves, but no sustainable repairs have been done. Pictures and descriptions published in the newspapers depict victims, in haor areas like Sunamganj, who raised their voice in despair due to their harvest being eaten up by flood water. They blame corruption and a delay in the construction of embankments.
From the time immemorial humans have been fighting against nature for survival, humans have also been dependent on nature for their livelihood and support of various kinds. To uplift the quality of life and add comfort to it, the exploitation and utilization of various natural resources is but a must. It is by utilizing the natural resources, making use of the power of nature that we thrive in our pursuits.
We have both good and bad experiences in our country.
An area in Jessore district known as Bhobodoho experienced severe water logging for decades involving three upazilas namely Abhoynogor, Monirampur and Keshabpur. The area comprises a large number of waterbodies or beels (52 in number) brought under an embankment system to avert flooding and tidal surge in the sixties. There were a number of projects named Coastal Embankment Project, Khulna Coastal Embankment Rehabilitation Project and Khulna Jessore Drainage Rehabilitation Project.
Some were funded by USAID to save the areas from coastal flooding and thereby allowing locals to cultivate their land throughout the year. But over decades this has served a devastating blow in totally damaging the ecology of the entire area and causing permanent water stagnation, crippling the lives of millions of people.
The water development board tried using a large number of pumps to drain out stagnated water, but to no avail. This is because of the fact that as water drains out, silt deposits increase and cause the bed of water bodies to rise. This further aggravates flooding and stagnation. Hence this had to be abandoned.
Ultimately, experts suggested TRM (tidal river management). Under this system, two avenues are cut in selected areas to let the water out through one and let the tidal water in through the other. As the water goes out, it drains out silt and thus reduces water stagnation.
But this also has a limitation as some land has to be under water, and as a result the victims must be compensated by the government. So,this also could not be continued. People in the Bhobodoho area remain in unending suffering which has resulted in a serious socio-economic crisis and protests of significant order, as the people remain victims of an environmental catastrophe.
On the contrary, there is a project known as Meghna Dhonagoda Irrigation Project in Chandpur district which is a relatively successful project. The Project has changed the area from one beset with perennial monsoon flooding to one free from annual inundation.
In addition to enhanced agricultural products of multiple yields in a year it has also provided the inhabitants of the area with better communication networks through roads built along the embankments. This has been a harbinger of tremendous socioeconomic development in the area.
Yet this was also not without loopholes and problems of various magnitudes which required detailed impact study and deliberate corrective measures — in particular the repair of damaged portions after the flooding in 1987 and 1988. Our experts had carried out Geophysical Investigation using Ground Penetrating Radar Method which is a sophisticated way of carrying out a survey to find and fix problems in such projects.
To cite an example of a mega project, we can talk about the Three Gorges Dam in China. This is much talked about for having both positive and negative impacts. This dam construction has played significant roles in flood control, irrigation, navigation, and energy supply.
But at the same time, it is also pointed out for the enormous negative effects, such as landslides, ecological problems, and water quality decline. Building this displaced more people than the three largest Chinese dams before it combined. The reservoir submerged two cities, 114 towns and 1,680 villages along the riverbanks.
The point I wanted to highlight here is that for such complicated projects — where we deal with large water bodies, rivers and land, as well as the lives and livelihood of millions of people — there has to be a professional impact study taking into account the physical impacts and socioeconomic fallouts both in the scope of immediate and long-term effects.
Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (Retd) is a freelance contributor.