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Ceaseless waterlogging wreaks havoc in trade-hub Ctg

Agencies playing blame game, instead of coordinating to resolve the issue
Md Saidur Rahman
22 Aug 2023 21:38:50 | Update: 22 Aug 2023 22:04:52
Ceaseless waterlogging wreaks havoc in trade-hub Ctg
— TBP Photo

Waterlogging is such an age-old problem in Chattogram that it has become sort of a tradition for the port city, causing havoc and choking economic activities year after year – without even a hint of a solution on the horizon.

The Chattogram Development Authority (CDA), Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) and Water Development Board spent Tk 5,790 crore over the last few years on tackling the waterlogging issue, but little improvement has been witnessed so far.

A lack of funding is clearly not the issue here. Moreover, unplanned urbanisation has compounded this problem several-fold, disrupting the day-to-day lives of the port city citizens, while slowing down trade and commerce in the region.

The CCC and CDA are blaming each other for the persisting waterlogging issue. During this August alone, a few days of torrential downpour waterlogged at least 50 areas of the port city. City dwellers say the authorities lack coordination, and the public are paying the toll.

City dwellers have been urging the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives to supervise activities between the CCC and CDA.

Meanwhile, businesses say that one government agency is blaming another for the water logging issue in Chattogram, but no solution has been reached yet.

‘Tk3,000cr losses in a decade’

Speaking to The Business Post, Khatungonj Trade and Industries Association General Secretary Sagir Ahmed said, “Waterlogging remains a serious problem for Chattogram, but the relevant government agencies are passing the blame among each other.

“Traders are losing hundreds of crores of Taka every year, and it is crucial for the government to identify the flaws and deficiencies of ongoing projects, and work on fixing the issues as soon as possible.”

The business leader urged the LGRD ministry to supervise and coordinate initiatives being implemented by different government agencies in bid to mitigate waterlogging in the port city.

On the issue, Chittagong Chamber of Commerce & Industry (CCCI) Omar Hazzaz said, “Businesses in Chattogram have lost nearly Tk 3,000 crore in the last decade due to the waterlogging issue.

“Though the Chaktai, Khatungonj and Asadgonj areas did not witness any waterlogging this year, many other areas of the port city were affected. We have witnessed severe losses because of the issue, and the exact amount has not been documented as yet.”

He added, “The stakeholders that are working to resolve the waterlogging issue in Chattogram are not making a coordinated effort. I am urging all stakeholders to coordinate their efforts, and complete the ongoing projects.”

Skyrocketing costs, little improvement

In a bid to tackle the waterlogging issue, one project is being implemented by the Chattogram City Corporation, one by the Water Development Board, and two by the CDA with a total cost of Tk 11,344 crore – which is nearly $1 billion.

These projects are supposed to reach completion in June next year, but engineers involved in the process say the deadline will get extended.

The Chattogram City Corporation is spending Tk 1,175 crore to dig a canal from the city’s Baroipara to Bolirhat area. The project got approved in 2014, but the agency is yet to complete the work.

Meanwhile, the CDA took up a Tk 5,616 crore project to mitigate the waterlogging issue. The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) had approved the project in 2017, and work began a year later.

So far, Tk 3,018 crore has been spent on the project. Under this initiative, the CDA cleaned up 36 canals, built defensive walls, dug new canals and constructed bridges and culverts. Five sluice gates have been built as well.

The CDA is also building an embankment and a road beside River Karnaphuli under a project worth Tk 2,779 crore. So far, Tk 1,500 crore has been spent on this project.

Besides, the Water Development Board of Chattogram is building sluice gates at the mouths of 23 canals connected to rivers Karnaphuli and Halda. The board spent Tk 97 crore on this project, but the work has yet to be finished.

Playing the blame game

The Chattogram City Corporation and the CDA are blaming each other for the severe waterlogging issue that has been plaguing the port city for years. Insiders say the authorities of these two agencies have even engaged in arguments over this issue.

On August 11, the Chattogram District organised a coordination meeting titled “Waterlogging Mitigation and Development,” but CDA Chairman Zahirul Alam Dubash and Chattogram City Corporation Mayor Rezaul Karim Chowdhury were absent from this programme.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Hasan Mahmud, Education Ministry Deputy Minister Mohibul H Chowdhoury, lawmaker Noman Alam Mahmud, and former CCC mayor AJM Nasir Uddin were present there.

At the meeting, Hasan Mahmud pointed out, “The recent downpour had left nearly 40 per cent of the port city waterlogged, causing immense suffering to people. Different agencies have argued over the issue, but this is our collective responsibility.”

It should be noted that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina allocated nearly $1 billion to resolve Chattogram’s waterlogging problem, a sum even the capital city of Dhaka did not get. But, in reality, the people of Chattogram are yet to receive any benefits from the ongoing projects.

On August 14, at another inter-departmental coordination meeting held at the Chattogram City Corporation building, Mayor Rezaul Karim Chowdhury asked for coordination among the agencies to handle the waterlogging issue.

Speaking to the media, Rezaul said, “The CDA removed structures from the canals, but it did not remove the required amount of soil from those water bodies. This issue is disrupting water flow. Instead of confrontation among agencies, we need coordination.

“The city dwellers of Chattogram suffered because of the waterlogging issue due to record rainfall, and unfinished projects.”

CDA Chief Engineer Hasan Bin Shams recently told The Business Post, “The city corporation is not cleaning up the canals and drains properly. The new canal has not been dug yet. The city’s drainage system has become ineffective, which in turn is intensifying the waterlogging issue.

“People will get the benefits of ongoing projects once those are completed.”

According to city planners, Chattogram used to be a green metropolitan full of water bodies, but it has lost its natural beauty due to unplanned urbanisation. The port city has lost nearly 18,000 water bodies in the last 30 years.

In 1991, a District Fisheries Department survey identified 19,250 water bodies in Chattogram. But the figure dropped to 4,523 in 2006-07, shows a CDA survey.

Another survey, supervised by Chattogram University’s Department of Geography and Ecology Professor Dr Mohammad Abu Taiyeb, identified only 1,352 water bodies through Chattogram city in 2016-17.

Commenting on the issue, Forum for Planned Chattogram’s Vice-President and engineer Subhash Chandra Barua said, “It is difficult to resolve the waterlogging issue of Chattogram, because water bodies are being filled up in favour of unplanned urbanisation.”

The 1961 Master Plan of Chattogram shows 70 canals in the city, but this number has dwindled to 57. Many surviving canals are now on the verge of extinction.

The 1995 master plan mentions digging of four new canals, and reforming the old ones. But this plan has been ignored in favour of four projects worth more than Tk 11,000 crore. The authorities have already spent Tk 5,500 crore on these initiatives.

Barua further said, “Coordination between agencies has become a key issue. People are saying that the two agencies [CCC and CDA] lack coordination. We should focus not only on coordination during meetings, but during implementations as well.

“We should also focus on projects that are in line with the master plan. Otherwise the waterlogging issue will not be solved.”