We are stunned by the news accompanying the harrowing images out of Chattogram in the wake of the weeklong spell of heavy rainfall witnessed in large parts of the country this week. It is not unusual of course, during the annual monsoon, for Chattogram city, the Port City, to encounter the debilitating effects of waterlogging. Although a common problem in almost all our urban centres, none have had it as bad on a consistent basis, or as long, as our fellow citizens residing in the urban agglomeration centred on what was once Chittagong. With the wet weather, the risk of mudslides always increased, a problem mostly in the foothills where people have been forced to reside - we would always struggle to accommodate what is a very large population.

Coupled with the well-established centralisation of everything towards Dhaka, more or less the geographical centre of the nation as well, it is not only Chattogram the city, but the entire district of the same name, and possibly the entire division - an increasingly irrelevant administrative division of the state that is still sought-after for simply bragging rights - that has fallen behind. Nothing could demonstrate it more cruelly than the sum of what Chittagongians endured, and continue to of course. If anything, the safer bet would be that the full extent of suffering is yet to be fathomed.

We know for example that our Port City had already encountered waterlogging 10 times in the past seven months, before conservative estimates said 40 percent of the city went under water following the latest spell of showers, that affected at least 1.5 million people. Moreover, the commercial wheels of what was once described as our 'commercial capital' grind to a halt everytime it happens. There can be no denying the city's absolutely vital importance to Bangladesh's growth story, and how it must continue to be, if Bangladesh is to keep growing at expected rates.

We have heard of two massive outlays from the authorities - highly ambitious, and extremely costly projects. The Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) is implementing a Tk 11,344 crore mega project to mitigate waterlogging. Yet out of the 40 sluice gates it was supposed to construct since the project began in 2017 (approved for disbursements) as part of it, only five have so far been built. It has apparently dug many canals to mitigate the problem. Now it is blaming the Chattogram City Corporation (CCC), saying that the city's drainage system has become ineffective because the CCC has not been cleaning the drains properly. Nobody is here to defend the CCC - but the problem appears larger than some badly cleaned drains. The municipality meanwhile, has blamed the CDA's failure to complete and hand over to it the canals, for the persisting waterlogging problem.

It's a familiar tussle between the CDA and CCC - one that has held back the region for long and one you cannot really foresee ending very soon. A more robust executive office at the divisional level, through devolution of powers, to oversee institutions such as the CDA and CCC from closer quarters, instead of the yawning distance from the capital, may hold the answer. Wider benefits could accrue beyond the Port City, as we've witnessed widespread strife throughout the division in the past few days. Flooding caused by incessant rain in Cox's Bazar and Bandarban for the last week have killed at least 30 people. Bandarban was cut off from the nation for a day or two as all access roads were flooded - unheard of in recent memory, and possibly related to insensitive planning of some development projects undertaken by cutting hills and fundamentally altering the landscape. It cries out for some local knowledge. But for the moment, we are all reduced to mute spectators.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts