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Bangladesh battles the country's longest-running floods since 1998

Categories: South Asia, Bangladesh, Citizen Media, Disaster, Environment, Governance, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Response
Flood-prone lands in Bangladesh. Image from Flickr by Rezwan. Used with permission. [1]

Flood-prone lands at an embankment in Bangladesh. Image from Flickr by Rezwan [1]. Used with permission.

The monsoon season has arrived in South Asia and has already ravaged large swathes of farming and urban areas, leaving millions who were already suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in financial ruin.

Approximately 10 million people in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal have been affected [2] by monsoon floods in 2020, the worst flooding since 1998. [3] Over 550 people have died [4] as a result, while over a million have been displaced or marooned.

One-third of Bangladesh was underwater [5] after torrential rains caused 53 rivers to overflow [6] in June [7], when Bangladesh was just beginning to recover from the devastation left by Cyclone Amphan [8] in May.

Expat Bangladeshi M. Jubair Ahmed posted some images of flooding in the southern parts of the country:

Journalist Rafiqul Islam Montu wrote [11] on the GainConnection website that:

Villagers lost their livelihood and have found no work, hence no income. Unemployment is rising. Cyclone affected families are struggling to get their daily food. There is an acute shortage of drinking water as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse, as relief supplies are affected. The west coast of Bangladesh is facing multiple disasters.

According to Bangladesh's Ministry of Agriculture [17], BDT 13.23 billion (US$ 156 million) worth of crops have been damaged, and approximately 257,148 hectares of farmland submerged by floodwaters, affecting over one million farmers.

According to UNICEF [18], more than 3.3 million people in Bangladesh, among whom 1.3 million are children, have been rendered homeless or are living in hazardous, unsanitary conditions.

The devastation comes at a time when emergency and health services are overwhelmed with responding to the COVID-19 epidemic. 

The impact of India's water management

India has built over 5,000 dams and embankments [20] on transnational rivers, with many of these affecting the flow of water o Bangladesh [21]. In the dry season, rivers such as the Teesta are reduced to narrow streams.

When India opens its floodgates [22] during the monsoon season, the added pressure causes erosion on river banks, affecting nearby settlements. Bangladesh has several [23] longstanding issues with India around the sharing of water. [24] The latest agreements signed in 2019 between India and Bangladesh have been met with criticism [25] from Bangladeshi citizens who say the arrangements favor India, which possesses a natural advantage as rivers headwaters are located within its borders.

Two-step trigger system

This year, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) worked with International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS) to implement a new model of anticipatory humanitarian action [29] that aims to distribute humanitarian aid to potentially affected populations before a disaster strikes.

The program has a two-step trigger system [30] — a pre-activation trigger, based on the GloFAS forecast [31], and an activation trigger, based on the Government of Bangladesh's Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC [32]). After the two triggers have been activated, the government distributes allocated funds accordingly.

On July 4, severe flooding was forecast [39] for the approaching weeks along the Jamuna River.

The United Nations promptly released [40] US$ 5.2 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for distribution among the communities most likely to be affected by the floods.

Recipients of the funds can then prepare by purchasing food, medicine, and reinforcing their homes before the flooding occurs.

Raquib Rony, who works at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Bangladesh office, tweeted:

Climate activist Greta Thunberg announced [48] in a July 28 tweet that she will donate 100,000 euros to BRAC, ActionAid Bangladesh, and other humanitarian organizations in Bangladesh and India working in the field:

Since July, Bangladeshi students have been participating in a digital campaign in partnership with Fridays For Future — Bangladesh [51], the national chapter of Thunberg's climate movement, posting portraits of themselves holding placards with demands and slogans such as “no future under water” and “mother nature shouldn't be drowned.”

For many Bangladeshis, however, such tragedies have become normalized, cyclical events that people endure every year: