The onset of the monsoon each year is usually the trigger for the annual floods that Bangladeshis must grapple with every year, although the intensity may vary as a natural disaster. Before that, bouts of heavy rain may trigger flash floods in the country, but fortunately this year we have not been burdened with that. But following an intense heat wave that swept over the entire country in May, the monsoon did arrive in the Indian subcontinent, and that has triggered flood warnings in various parts.
In northern Bangladesh, all the rivers have started to swell, triggered by the onrush of water from the upstream and rain, inundating low-lying areas in different upazilas of Kurigram district. Some 10,000 people in the char areas have been affected as the river water entered their houses and submerged the roads.
The Dudhkumar river at Pateshwari Sonahat Rail Bridge point was flowing almost at the danger level in Bhurungamari upazila while the water level of Dharla, Brahmaputra and Teesta rivers has also increased.People were seen moving on boats while vegetable farms, Aman rice seed-beds and jute farms were inundated.
Abed Ali, Union Parishad member of Bamandanga, said the water of Dudhkumar river started to enter the locality. Though the authorities concerned have dumped G.O. bags, the 250 metre flood protection dam collapsed due to the strong current.
Marjina Begum, a resident of Uttar Nauabash village in Sadar upazila, said that she, along with her family, took shelter at the flood protection dam on Wednesday as the flood water entered her house.Biplab, a vegetable trader in the area, said, "I cultivated pointed gourd on one bigha of land, and I was happy with the good yield. But the flood water damaged my vegetables."
The executive magistrate of Kurigram Water Development Board said there is a possibility that the river water may cross the danger level on June 23 but there is no possibility of long-term flood.Saidul Arif, Deputy Commissioner of Kurigram district, said all-out preparation has been taken to tackle the flood situation and 541 metric tonnes of rice, Tk 10.21 lakh and dry foods are in stock for distributing in time to the flood affected areas.
A short-term flood may hit the low-lying areas of Sylhet and Sunamganj districts as major rivers in the region may swell further due to heavy rainfall in the North-Eastern region and adjoining upstream, said the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre on Monday (June 19).
The Brahmaputra-Jamuna and The Ganges-Padma rivers are maintaining a trend of rising water level at different places, which may continue in next 72 hours, it said. Due to heavy rainfall in the North-Eastern region and adjoining upstream, all major rivers of this region are rising rapidly.
"According to the weather forecasting agency, there is a possibility of heavy to very-heavy rainfall in the North-Eastern region and adjoining upstream region of the country in the next 24 hours. Due to heavy rainfall forecast in the Teesta, Dharla and Dudhkumar basin and adjoining upstream region in the next 24 hours, these rivers may swell rapidly at times," said the morning bulletin of FFWC.
As a result, the major rivers of this region including Surma, Kushiyara, Sarigowain, Jhalukhali, Bhugai-Kangsha, Someswari and Jadukata may rise rapidly.
The Teesta River at Dalia point may cross the respective danger level in the next 24 hours, it predicts.
Meanwhile flood situation in bordering Assam state of India worsened on Sunday as incessant rains inundated new areas in the state, reports Indian media.
UNB Sunamganj correspondent reports: The Surma River was flowing 54 cm above its danger level at Chhatak point while it was flowing 75 cm below the red level at Shologhor point in Sunamganj district Monday noon.
According to the Sunamganj Water Development Board , the water level of all major rivers in the district are in rising trend due to heavy showers in Cherapunji of India.
The Shaktierkhola main road in Bishambharpur upazila was submerged due to flood.
Executive Engineer of Sunamganj Water Development Board Md Mamun Hawladar said the Surma River was flowing 75 cm below the danger mark in Sunamganj in the past 24 hours and the Indian authorities recorded 26mm of rainfall in Cherapunji in the past 24 hours.
Deputy Commissioner Didar Alam Mohammad Maksud Chwodhury said the shelter centres have kept prepared to tackle the flood.
Low-lying areas of different parts of Sylhet district have been inundated due to onrush of hill water and swelling of rivers caused by torrential rains for the last three days.
The water levels in the Kushiara and the Surma Rivers are close to the danger level and may cross it if water levels rise further, said Executive Engineer of Sylhet Water Development Board Ashif Ahmed.
According to the local weather observatory centre, the rains may continue for 15 more days and if rains and onrush of water from upstream continue for a few more days moderate flood may hit the region this week.
Deputy Commissioner Mojibur Rahman, said already the local administration has taken all necessary measures after holding an emergency meeting on Thursday and the authorities concerned have been asked to keep all shelter centres prepared.
Water started to enter many low-lying areas and haor areas due to the rise in water levels of many rivers.Besides, Surma River was flowing 12.68 cm against the danger level of 12.65 cm at Kanaighat point while it was flowing 9.38 cm against 10.8 cm danger level at Surma point.
The local weather observatory centre recorded 135.4 mm of rainfall from 6 am Thursday till 6 am Friday while 271 mm rains were recorded from 6 am Wednesday till 6 am Thursday.
Shah Mohammad Sajeebhossain, assistant meteorologist, said downpour is likely in the district in the next 48 hours. He also asked all to remain alert as onrush of hill water may flood the area during this period.
Last year, the residents of Sylhet district experienced a devastating flood as 70 percent of the district went under floodwater while 10,000 dwelling houses were damaged, causing immense sufferings to thousands of people.
Over 30,000 people in Kurigram and Lalmonirhat find themselves marooned as the ongoing flood continues to submerge low-lying areas of this region.At least 26 rivers in the northern region, including the Brahmaputra, the Teesta, the Dharla, the Dudhkumar, and the Gangadhar, started swelling towards danger level.The Water Development Board (WDB) said the water may cross danger levels anytime.
Some 35 islands on the bank of the Brahmaputra in Kurigram and 15 islands on the bank of the Teesta in Lalmonirhat were inundated in floodwater
Poster child for climate change
Bangladesh isn't just ground zero for climate disaster. It's also a hot spot for solutions.
Bangladesh is often called a climate victim. It contributes only a tiny fraction of global carbon emissions - 0.56%, by one count. But it suffers disproportionately from their effects.
Its low-lying geography, south of the Himalayan mountains, means it's particularly vulnerable to flooding as glaciers melt and sea levels rise. Its agriculture relies on monsoon rains that increasingly come in spasms. And it gets battered with some of the world's worst cyclones.
But fatalities from those rains and cyclones have fallen dramatically. For example: In 1970, Cyclone Bhola killed up to half a million people in what is now Bangladesh, while last year's Cyclone Sitrang killed 16.
Part of the reason is what Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, calls social capital - awareness.
"I tell my American friends, 'You should send your skeptics to Bangladesh! The awareness of climate change here is the highest in the world,' "Huq says. "But we have gone through the doom and gloom phase. That's yesterday's news in Bangladesh. "
Now it's all about solutions, he says.
Bangladesh uses satellites to track cyclones and shares that information with neighboring countries. It's anchored buoys offshore that are equipped with solar-powered sensors to measure sea level and transmit that data to scientists on dry land.
In Begum's region, residents adapt to life around more water by splitting their time between agriculture in the dry season and fishing in the rainy season. Some continue to farm year-round by weaving together bamboo and water hyacinth roots to create a floating farm - a hammock on which to plant seeds to grow bitter gourds, spinach and okra, partially submerged in flooded rivers.
In coastal areas farther south, farmers are using saline-resistant varieties of rice so that as sea levels rise in the Bay of Bengal, the influx of salt water doesn't poison freshwater crops. They're harvesting rainwater and also building pond sand filtration systems to purify brackish water and ensure a safe supply for drinking.
"Bangladesh is one of the worst sufferers of climate change, but instead of giving up, we're leading the way in adaptation and resilience - creating best practices that can be used globally," says Niaz Ahmed Khan, a development and environment expert at Dhaka University. "Using indigenous knowledge, we're coping and surviving. We are trying to reclaim our life."
Most critically, the government has partnered with cellphone providers to extend 4G coverage to areas that might not even have electricity or plumbing.
"So that when something happens, almost everybody on land gets the message, gets to shelter and survives. It's not the technology, it's social capital - people knowing what to do," Huq says. "That is Bangladesh's biggest asset."
In June 2022, a few days before Begum's house washed away, scientists in Bangladesh's capital noticed something unusual: An unprecedented amount of rain forecast for the Himalayan foothills across the border in India. It's an area that's been deforested in recent years.
"There's no grass or trees on those hills, so the water just rushes downstream," explains Partho Protim Barua, an engineer at the country's Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre in the capital Dhaka.
It rushes downstream, across the Indian border, into low-lying Bangladesh.
That day, Barua called up his colleague Nazma Akter in the far north of the country, near the Indian border. She's a housewife with a side job reading a gauge in her local river, the Wah Umngi or Umngot River, which flows from India's Meghalaya state southward into the Surma River in Bangladesh.
The gauge looks like a yardstick stuck in the riverbank. Akter, 26, checks it five times a day, records water levels and sends her readings to Dhaka's Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre by text message - on her indestructible old Nokia brick phone.
Adaptation the key
Bangladesh relies on hundreds of people like Akter - regular folks, not scientists - who monitor water levels at rivers, streams and reservoirs across the country. They act as scouts for the scientists, looking for signs of trouble on the front lines of climate change.
Akter recalls how last June, the river showed a 2.5-meter rise - around 8 feet - over three days. It was a sign of massive rainfall to the north - just as Barua had seen in the forecast - even before local skies clouded over.
Akter, who has just a high school education, says she realised what was coming: Some of the worst flash floods ever to hit her country.
So she increased the frequency of her trips out to the river to read the gauge from five times a day to every hour - even as her own family prepared to evacuate.
"Suddenly the sky grew dark here, and people started panicking. Then my own house flooded!" Akter recalls. "Still, I went out in the rain and checked the gauge every hour. I had to - it's my duty."
A human chain from citizens to scientists and back to citizens, yielding region-specific warnings.Back at the government's Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre in Dhaka, Barua, the engineer, says he was in disbelief when he received Akter's text messages. He plugged her hourly data into his hydrological models, triple-checked it for accuracy - and was astounded.
"The rivers there are very narrow, so the water level rises suddenly," he explains. "But this broke records from the last 100 to 150 years!"
So he grabbed a little microphone attached to his desktop computer and recorded a message on June 19, 2022.
"Salam Aleikum, peace be with you," he began. The two-minute message goes on to list regions of northern Bangladesh where flood risk was high - and imminent.
"We try to keep it as simple as possible and as short as possible," Barua explains. "Basically, what's going to happen in each area in the next three to five days."
He uploads the audio to a website where it's accessible by all of Bangladesh's mobile phone operators - and then holds his breath, hoping people will get it in time.
On June 19, 2022, Barua's message went out on Bangladesh's emergency warning system as a smartphone push notification. The government recently signed a deal with Google to expand that service. His warning also went out as an analog SMS text message, and as an audio recording accessible on a toll-free number - so that even folks with bulky Nokia brick phones like Akter's can receive it.
"Everybody in Bangladesh has a mobile phone - almost 100% penetration. So they can get text messages, and a growing number have smartphones, where they can actually see the satellite image, track the cyclone and figure out how long they have to get to the shelter," Huq explains. "Any deaths that we tend to have are usually fishermen who are out at sea and don't get to land in time."
Additional reporting from NPR
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