River Blessings and Threats of Bangladesh
The names of rivers in Bangladesh can be confusing, for the same stream of water has more than one name at various points of its journey in to the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh often seems to have more inland water than land and people, which may not be such a bad thing in a world starved of fresh water. Indeed, paddy rice, fish, and jute, all of which are integral to Bangladesh, depend heavily on the system of rivers. Water transport is also an important sector in the Bangladesh economy. But we still have to ask the question: are the rivers of Bangladesh a blessing or a curse.
Floods and Bangladesh are almost synonymous, at least during the third quarters of many calendar years! Poor agrarian communities who live in huts of mud and straw on the banks of the rivers, are worst affected, and spend lifetimes trying to recover from damages to their livestock and other properties. Accidents in river transport are also regular since the authorities exercise poor controls on the loading of country craft. Scarcely a year goes by without the rivers of Bangladesh causing as much misery, as the bounties they bestow on the people in normal weather.
No research is needed to tame the rivers of Bangladesh, halting the losses they regularly cause, and building on their potential benefits. However, there are two uncontrollable factors from the Bangladesh perspective: international funding for infrastructural investments, and cooperation by India, from whose territory swollen water flow. Bangladesh lacks the resources to effect such changes on its own, and deserves more global encouragement and support. Many economic benefits are lost because the banks of rivers shift so frequently, and because planned drainage of a precious natural asset is simply unavailable. It is sad but true that many flood ravaged areas also suffer from cyclical droughts.
Though the Bangladesh government is helpless when the weather is inclement, or when India allows excess discharges from the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, there is credible action that Dhaka can take to control pollution, to promote judicious use of water resources, and to protect the natural eco-systems in the waters and around the banks. The future well being of the people of Bangladesh depends in large measure on whether such actions start early or not.
Tags:rivers, bay of bengal, transport, economy, global, dhaka
Rivers of Bangladesh
- Length: 768 words (2.2 double-spaced pages)
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Rivers of Bangladesh
Meghna, Ganges, Brahmaputra
The Drainage Basin
Extensive, covering much of Bangladesh, parts of India, Nepal and
China. The Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau form the rivers' watershed.
The river Brahmaputra detours over a thousand kilometres as the river
has not been able to cut a valley through the resistant rock of the
Himalayas. The flood plain covers about 50% of Bangladesh's land area.
The river erodes material in its upper course in China, India and
Nepal, carrying huge amounts of sediment to be deposited as the river
slows crossing the floodplain and delta of Bangladesh. The river
enters the Bay of Bengal through its distributaries in the delta.
How and why does the river flood ?
1. MONSOON & SNOWMELT : along the delta, huge tidal waves can be
whipped up in the storm conditions of the Monsoon season (May to
October). These waves can reach 7 metres in height and therefore have
very destructive effects. Islands in the delta such as Sandwip island
house the very poorest of people in Bangladesh. They are forced to
live on the stretches of land with greatest flood risk. They argue
that no one in government is interested in protecting their land.
2. DEFORESTATION: some scientists argue that large scale clearance of
forests in the Himalayas for firewood, furniture and sporting
equipment for other countries is one cause. Forest clearance exposes
the soil to rainsplash which loosens soil particles and surface run
3. OVERFLOW: The increase in soil erosion adds to the silt / sediment
load of the river. The rivers in Bangladesh carry 1600 tonnes of silt
per kilometre. River's channel fills with debris & there is less room
for water which overflows.
4. CHANNEL STRAIGHTENING / CANALISATION: increasing control of the
river through concreted sections & straightening can actually increase
the river's speed (smooth sides reduce friction). This means more
water is carried faster downstream. This can be controversial -
building up concrete or stone levees can prevent floodwater draining
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away quickly onto the floodplain when the floods do come.
Are floods all bad news any way ?
Scientists are again divided on this. Many people who live & farm on
the floodplain believe that the floods are "BARSHA" - good floods. For
them, flooding brings disaster, yes but also free fertiliser (silt)
for crops, they wash out salt from the delta, they can flush out
disease, irrigation water for crops. As well as the benefits, there
are disastrous effects such as death, destruction of homes or even
whole islands of the delta, death to fish populations(over 80% of the
protein in people's diets is from fish and 70% of the national fish
catch is from rivers., sewage and excess fertilisers / pesticides from
upstream. The worst floods have killed hundreds of thousands of people
and animals. They have destroyed homes, transport, communications,
Are flood control management strategies the answer ?
Scientists are again divided, particularly learning from the
Mississippi flood of 1993 where even in one of the richest and most
technologically advanced nations, a flood occurred despite millions of
$ being spent on control and it being made "the river which could not
What schemes are used ?
q RIVER STRAIGHTENING & LEVEES:- raise banks but make water difficult
to control if it cannot drain away onto flood plain naturally ( high
concrete banks stop this). Straightening can increase river's power to
erode and carry floods even faster to lower reaches of floodplain.
q DAMS: these hold water back in the upper course but may alter the
river's flow so that poor farmers are faced with irrigation reductions
and silt gets trapped behind the dam rather than on their land.
q TIDAL BARRAGE ACROSS BAY OF BENGAL: this has been proposed but is an
expensive option. It would protect land of the poorest people but
would prevent river water draining freely out to the Bay but it would
reduce salt in the delta and make its crops more reliable. However a
build up of chemical e.g. pesticides or fertilisers may occur.
q URBAN FLOOD PROTECTION LEVEES - these would benefit the richer
communities of the urban areas but would help reduce problems related
to breakages in sewage and communication systems and reduce spread of
Is money better spent on aiding people to live with rather than
control floods ?
Killas can house up to a thousand people. They are concrete shelters
for people and animals built on stilts.If people get enough warning
and 5,000 killas can be
built, most of the people at risk could shelter for the days when
floodplain land is under water. Benefits: cheap, easy to build, can
help poor areas as well as richer areas.
Embankments - Strengthens river banks along the stretches most at
risk. Problem is cost (1000kms of river costs £20 billion to protect).
Structures are up to 7 metres high. No natural supplies of rock in
Bangladesh - expensive to import. Another problem - restricted access
to river for fishing people. Embankments stop water draining naturally
into fields either side of the river.
Satellite Technology for warning systemscan be used with increasing
accuracy to predict when floods are most likely to occur - satellite
tracking can follow storms which bring tidal waves up the Bay of
Bengal. Benefits - increasing co-operation with India, improves skill
and I.T. expertise.
Urban flood protection targets most populated and costly areas -
protecting hospitals, housing, transport networks, industrial
complexes. Would benefit most wealthy. Does not necessarily protect
from risk of pollution / contamination.