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Flood panic grips N-Eastern region

Published : 20 Jun 2023 10:30 PM

A flood-like situation has arisen in northeastern region of the country, particularly Sylhet and Sunamganj, even with moderate precipitation. 

Many local people of Sylhet and Sunamganj districts apprehend devastating flooding as vast areas have already overflowed with the on-rush of water coming from the upper stream from Meghalaya and Assam in India. Besides, the heavy downpour is also worsening the flash flood situation.

“This is the beginning of Monsoon season, and rain is not unexpected. It does not look like the severity of rain is quite that high.  However, it is better to take precautionary measures than be sorry,” said Professor Dr. Md. Khalequzzaman, head of  Dept. of Environmental, Geographical, and Geological Sciences (EGGS) at Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania (USA).

Talking to Bangladesh Post, the Bangladesh-born US professor, however, said that rain in Cherrapunji can affect the Surma basin downstream of Sylhet. Sunamganj area is more susceptible to flooding if it rains in Cherrapunji.  Rain in Assam affects Sylhet city.

Abdul Hye Al-Hadi, chief coordinator of Save the Heritage and Environment; is unwilling to call the flood-like situation in Sylhet region as a flash flood. He likes to call this waterlogging. This situation has been created due to the lack of water management of monsoon rainfall. 

Abdul Hye Al-Hadi and some other experts on water and environment the water of monsoon rainfall cannot flow to the Bay of Bengal easily like the past and it is responsible for current flood-like situation in Sylhet region. The water flow is constricted as rivers in Sylhet region have lost navigability and water-carrying capacity in their certain segments following construction of major bridges built over the Meghna River and some other rivers. Construction of roads and dams in haors is also responsible for constriction of water, while destruction of natural forests, hill-cutting, unplanned urbanization and development projects are also responsible for smooth flow of water in the northeastern region and other regions of the country. 

The larger, straighter, deeper and smoother a river, haor or other channel is, the greater its water-carrying capacity and the lower the risk of flooding. Any process that reduces this capacity, such as embankment of a river or channel, restriction by development or sedimentation, contributes to flooding even with moderate rainfall. 

“If the water-carrying capacity of rivers and haors in the Sylhet region is not increased, the risk of damaging floods will remain,” Abdul Hye Al-Hadi said while talking to Bangladesh Post on Tuesday (June 20). 

In this regard, Professor Dr. Md. Khalequzzaman said, “The amount of rainfall, timing of rainfall, and location of rainfall play a major role.  However, there are many other human-made changes in a basin area that are important as well.  For example, the carrying capacity of rivers, canals are important.  If the carrying capacity of rivers decline due to siltation of riverbeds, then floods get worse for the same amount of rain.  Besides, impediment to surface water flow due to roads, embankments, dams, bridges, etc. can also make flooding situation worse.”

The water level of major rivers in northeastern region of the country continues to rise, while low-lying areas in Kurigram have been inundated. 

Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) of Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) recorded a rise in water level at 91 stations while a fall in 15 others after monitoring the water level of the country's rivers at 109 river stations in 24 hours till Tuesday morning (June 20).

The water level in three river stations was registered steady and all rivers are flowing below the danger level, a bulletin issued by the FFWC said on Tuesday.

The Brahmaputra-Jamuna and the Ganges-Padma rivers are in rising trend which may continue.

“All major rivers of this region are rising rapidly. According to the weather forecasting agencies, there is a chance of heavy rainfall in the northeastern region and adjoining upstream region of the country. As a result, the major rivers of this region, including Surma, Kushiara, Sari, Jhalukhali, Bhugai-Kangsha, Someswari and Jadukata, may rise rapidly and create a short-term flood situation in Sylhet and Sunamganj districts,” the FFWC bulletin said.

Due to heavy rainfall forecast in the Teesta, Dharla and Dudhkumar basin and adjoining upstream region, these rivers may rise rapidly during this period.

The Teesta river at Dalia point may flow close to the respective danger level.

The water level of 16 rivers including Brahmaputra, Dharla,Teesta and Dudhkumar of the northern region have continued to rise in Kurigram due to the heavy downpour and onrush of water from upstream. However, the water was flowing below the danger level at all points. 

Last year, Sylhet region experienced the worst flood in recorded history. However, the flood victims of 2022 have not yet overcome the shock of the devastating flood.

Assistant meteorologist at the Met Office in Sylhet Shah Md Sajib Hossain said that everyone needs to be careful as especially the border areas may be hit by flash floods.

About the preparedness of flash flood, Professor Dr. Md. Khalequzzaman said that data exchange with the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in advance is important. “Without data from upstream region it is not possible to make good prediction of flooding in downstream Bangladesh.  In addition, a good plan to evacuate flood victims is important. To have good supply of food and medication is also important, in case there is a flood again this year,” said the water expert. 

Talking to this correspondent, he said that people need to stay alert, but there is no reason to panic.  Awareness building and communication with authorities concerned are important.

The mass media can play a vital role in pre-flood preparation or in warning or pre-preparedness. The mass media has a very important role in disseminating correct information to people. “The mass media can organize information exchange between experts and administration,” said Professor Dr. Md. Khalequzzaman.  

Mohammed Abu Sadique, a deputy director of National Institute of Mass Communication (NIMC); also said that the mainstream media of the country can play a vital role over preparedness and awareness about flood and any other disaster. He called for introducing a specialized beat for disaster journalism in the mainstream media.