Monsoon floods submerge a third of Bangladesh; affect around 5 million people amid COVID-19

Bangladesh is no stranger to monsoon flooding, but the flooding this year has been the longest since the floods of 1988. One-third of the country has been submerged.

Rafiqul Islam Montu
| Updated: August 4th, 2020

Women in a house that was submerged in Nawabganj. Photo by arrangement

“If someone gives me food, I eat, otherwise I don’t,” said Sajeda Begum, a 60-year-old. She took shelter under a polythene tent near the Gobindasi-Bangabandhu bridge road in Bhunapur upazila of Bangladesh’s Tangail district after the monsoon flood that hit the country in June submerged her house. Over five hundred flood-affected families from different villages on the banks of the Jamuna in Gobindasi and Nikrail unions have taken shelter on this road.

Begum is just one of at least five million people who have lost everything due to the incessant torrential rains that submerged one-third of the country so far. The latest available data was published a week ago. The National Disaster Response Coordination Center estimated 4.7 million people have been affected by the flood, 9,84,819 houses have been inundated. It also estimated damage to 1,50,000 hectares of paddy field. Over 100 people have died.

Flood inundation map of Bangladesh. Source: Flood Forecasting and Warning Center

Eid Al Adha, also known as the Bakri Eid, the biggest religious festival of the Muslim community, was celebrated from July 31 to August 3, 2020, across the world, but the people of Bangladesh were struggling to survive.

“I used to make a living by farming. I had planted some vegetables but the flood was all over,” said Abdus Chobahan, 50, a farmer from Chhota Jhawerchar village in Sherpur Sadar upazila. “I have no money, there is no food at home. We need help,” he said.

Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, directed the field-level officers and employees of all the ministries to extend help and cooperation to the affected people. She said in places where there are not enough shelters for flood-affected people, schools, colleges, and madrasas should make arrangements for shelter.

The floodwaters entered Chilmari upazila of Kurigram district a month ago. A bamboo-plastic hut has been erected in the Matikata area of Chilmari.​ Nur Selima, a 45-year-old, is afraid of floodwaters and rains. Her family of four had taken shelter here. Now, she is worried more about food than the flood. Government relief has not reached them yet.

A women who was rendered homeless by the flood. Clicked in Kurigram. Photo: Abdul Khaleq Farooq

State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Enamur Rahman, however, said that six committees have been formed to monitor the flood situation and that adequate relief materials have been provided to the flood victims.

Ministry of Relief and Disaster Management said at least 31 districts of the country have been affected. These districts include Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Nilphamari, Rangpur, Sylhet, Sunamganj, Sirajganj, Bogra, Jamalpur, Tangail, Rajbari, Manikganj, Madaripur, Faridpur, Netrokona, Feni, Naogaon, Shariatpur, Mymensingh, Dhaka. Kishoreganj, Brahmanbaria, Laxmipur, Natore, Gazipur, Moulvibazar, Munshiganj, and Madaripur.

Houses submerged in Balasi Ghat, Gaibandha. Photo: Siddique Alam Dayal

Rashida Begum of Hatibandha upazila of Lalmonirhat district, on the banks of Teesta river, has been living on the roof of her house with six members of the family for over a month now. She has four daughters at home. She is getting 10 kilograms of rice per week from the government, but they have to procure oil, fish, salt, and vegetables themselves. She had been borrowing these. She is worried that when the water recedes, the pressure to repay the loans will dawn upon them.

Why does Bangladesh flood?

The monsoon season has historically flooded Bangladesh. The deltaic country was born with the accumulation of riverine silt. A low-land country, the water from its neighbouring countries – India, Nepal and China – drain to the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh.

The main outlets for water from upstream countries are the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna basins. The lower Meghna basin is the only outlet for the annual combined flooding of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers. The current floods are a result of intense rains upstream on the Brahmaputra river.

A house that collapsed due to floodwaters. Clicked in Balasi Ghat, Gaibandha. Photo: Siddique Alam Dayal

Arifuzzaman Bhuiyan, an executive engineer at the Flood Forecasting and Warning Center, said it is raining everywhere from the Meghna basin to the North, and hence, water is not able to go down quickly through the Meghna basin, resulting in such a long-lasting flood.

Climate change is hitting Bangladesh hard

The global climate change is increasing the chances of natural disasters hitting Bangladesh. Three cyclones – Fani in May 2019, Bulbul in November 2019, and Amphan in May 2020 hit the country. According to international disaster monitoring organisations, the level of cyclones has been increasing not only in Bangladesh but all over the world in the last few years.

Relocation of houses in flood prone areas. Clicked in Kurigram. Photo: Abdul Khaleq Farooq

At the same time, floods are not leaving Bangladesh behind. Monsoon brings floods every year. The northern districts of Bangladesh are prone to floods at this time. The Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Meghna basins overflow and result in floods. River erosion increases abnormally. Rainfall will increase in the coming 10-15 years, experts said. In another 50 years, the amount of rain will increase a lot more and as a result, the crisis of floods and waterlogging will also increase.

Dr Ainun Nishat, an internationally-renowned water expert, said flood management must be given more attention. To reduce the risk of waterlogging, good drainage systems must be built. The construction of embankments does not have to be like the sixties or seventies. The infrastructure of the dam has to be planned for the next fifty-hundred years. The construction engineering of the dam needs to be changed. If necessary, concrete walls should be constructed instead of earthen embankments.

A family that fled their house. Now living on the embankment. Cliced in Kurigram. Photo: Abdul Khaleq Farooq

Various UN agencies have started humanitarian assistance activities expressing concern over the flood situation in Bangladesh. A statement from the Asia office of the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that the floods could cause a humanitarian catastrophe in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. The agency said 9.6 million people had been flooded in the region so far, and the financial crisis people have been facing due to the coronavirus pandemic, and now the long-lasting flood, may increase poverty in rural areas.

According to the report, 550 people have already died in the floods in three countries. The Red Cross called on the international community to come forward to help the flood victims.