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Bangladesh Water Action: Floodwaters Rising

Bangladesh Water Action: Floodwaters Rising

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Published by: adbwaterforall on Oct 16, 2012
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Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Country Water ActionsBangladesh: Floodwaters Rising
December 2004
By Eric van Zant
Consultant 
BACKGROUND
In Bangladesh, flood-warypeasants make a verbal distinctionbetween a routine monsoon(borsha) and a fullscale flood(bonnya). That's because eachyear, 22% or more of the country'sland area is covered by water.Indeed, the country's farmers areused to floods.Problems arise when the annualevent overwhelms expectations, asit did in July- August 2004. Thewaters have been receding, butthose affected face months of foodshortages and danger of disease and need sustained short-term aid.Longer-term support must focus on more innovativeprograms to improve flood preparedness.The August floods covered about 38% of the country, killedsome 800 people, and directly affected 34 million out of thecountry's 140 million people.As waters peaked, normal life and businesses were crippledas boats replaced cars, and millions fled for shelters, orsimply climbed upon their rooftops in an effort to protecttheir belongings.As the waters recede, the postflood period brings perhapsthe greater danger. Destroyed crops and still-flooded landshave left many of the poorest with no income, no shelter,and no assets, and vulnerable to disease. The story hasmoved off the front pages, but a quiet disaster continues.Many millions of people will have to be fed for months.The severity of the disaster prompted the United Nations toappeal for some $210 million in further aid. Damages areestimated to be sizable. The worst flood of the last centurywas in 1998, when 68% of the country was covered formonths, also causing billions in damages.
THE GEOGRAPHY OF A FLOOD
Bangladesh is a huge lowland sponge, which receivesdrainage from an area twelve times its own size. About80% of its rainfall comes in the monsoon between May andOctober.Most of the country lies within the broad alluvial deltaformed by the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers,which drain a 1.75 million square-kilometer area in People'sRepublic of China, India, Myanmar, and Nepal. Bangladesh depends on the annual flooding. The economy of Bangladesh is largely agricultural, and together the watersof the Ganges and Brahmaputra carry about 1,185 milliontons of sediment. The waters regenerate soil and increaseagricultural productivity, replenish groundwater, andrejuvenate wetlands for fish and aquatic plants.But the sediment also clogs rivers and drainage channels,impeding flow and worsening the floods.The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has given substantialassistance to Bangladesh in response to previous majorfloods. After 1998, it provided $104 million in emergencyfinancial assistance. It was used to restore water supply andsanitation; and repair schools and training centers, roadsand bridges, flood and water control structures, rural roadsand markets, railways, and urban infrastructure.After the floods in 2000 in southwest Bangladesh, ADBprovided $67.8 million for rehabilitation of vital economicand social infrastructure.The challenge is to develop innovative flood managementthat moves away from "crisis management" toward long-term management strategies that recognize the benefits of floods.Damage control needs to focus onflood preparedness rather thanprevention, says Dr. HamidurRahman Khan, a flood expert.In the future, he says, controllingthe annual flood hinges on solvingthe problem of riverbank erosionalong the Brahmaputra-JamunaRiver.But no solution is yet in sight. Floodpreparedness is the answer now.This includes pre-emergencyactivities, such as flood forecasting,flood warning, evacuation and sheltering, flood fighting, andorganizing emergency response.
EARLY WARNING
Funding agencies say improved early warning systems havealready helped reduce the numbers of deaths from naturaldisasters in Bangladesh.Nonstructural measures are needed, such as furthereducation and training of local communities to bettermanage flooding effects. This could include planting treesalong embankments, constructing earth platforms close toflood-prone villages, or developing elevated houses. Othermethods include 

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