A child reacts to the camera while sitting on his father's back as they make their way in a flooded area in Bogra, Bangladesh, August 20, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A child sits on his father's back as they make their way in a flooded area in Bogra, Bangladesh, on August 20, 2017. Rising sea levels and other problems blamed on climate change are affecting the region. Photo: Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Nearly 40 million people across Bangladesh, India and Nepal are estimated to have been affected in the annual floods that ravage South Asia every year. Reports indicate that around 800 people have died in the three countries due to the floods, besides causing damage estimated to be in billions of dollars.

Bangladesh has borne the brunt of the floods, with two in April and June, and the third one in August. The disaster affected more than eight million people in Bangladesh by damaging houses, roads, schools and other infrastructure, destroying crops in an agriculture-dependent economy.

So far, the flood has claimed nearly 100 lives in Bangladesh.
“It will take us anywhere between six to eight months to recover completely from the losses,” said Dr. Ainun Nishat, a water resource and climate change specialist, to Asia Times.

“The country was already suffering from the early flood in April that had occurred in Haor areas of Sylhet following heavy rainfall in the neighboring Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. But it was not as severe as this one.” Nishat pointed out that the second flood in June had affected areas like Gaibandha, Dinajpur, Kurigram and adjoining areas of North Bangladesh. “The forecast suggested then that a severe flood is coming around August, which is also the monsoon season,” he said.

Schools closed, Dhaka safe

By mid-August the water level in 14 rivers of Bangladesh rose between 77 to 236 centimeters, affecting districts like Sherpur, Bahadurabad, Kurigram, Sirajganj, Thakurgaon, Sunamganj, Dirai and others, within 24 to 48 hours of torrential downpours. The increasing water level submerged houses, roads, schools and displaced families .
Railway and road communications were also suspended in these areas according to official estimates. Also, around 1,000 education institutions including schools and madrasas were closed down in Lalmonirhat, Panchagarh, Bogra, Jamalpur, Tangail, Nilphamari, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Sunamganj and Sylhet as some of these were used as shelters for the flood affected. Others were simply flooded.

Moffazal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, the disaster management and relief minister of Bangladesh, had said last month that with upstream countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan suffering severe floods, “We
are carefully monitoring the situation in those countries because water will naturally flow downstream to us”. “Torrential downpour in Bangladesh added to the water that was already flowing downstream. This affected some of the urban areas as well,” said Nishat.
He pointed out that in some coastal areas, embankments were washed away allowing water to seep in.

According to Nishat it was fortunate for Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, that the embankment near it was intact. “If this was affected in anyway, Dhaka would have faced the brunt of the flood,” he said.

Infrastructure devastated

Due to the floods, around 7,000 kilometers of rural roads have also been damaged. The country is also suffering from river bank erosion. “While the different ministries are still estimating the total damage to crops, an educated guess would be around three million metric tons of food grains,” said Nishat. Bangladesh produces around 35 metric tons of rice every year.

Fortunately, the flood situation has improved drastically since the beginning of September. The water level is only 11 points, according to data from 90 river points that are monitored by the Flood Forecasting and Warning Center under the Bangladesh Water Development Board, well below the “danger” level. Only eight points had water above the danger level. “But we can say that the most severe flood is finally over,” said Nishat. “The water is slowly receding and it should come down below danger level in all the monitored points, if there is no increase in rainfall. In the long run, with cooperation from India, we can also try to make dams in upper reaches of shared rivers,” he added.

Experts working on flood management-related issues recommend a focus on enhancing river conveyance capacity and also to ensure better embankments.

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