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South Asia faces increased flood risks, UN report warns

Caritas chief says Bangladesh needs a long-term plan to tackle flooding caused by climate change

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South Asia faces increased flood risks, UN report warns

A family travel by boat in a flooded area of Gopalganj district of Bangladesh in 2017. South Asian countries, especially Bangladesh and India, face increased risks of flooding, a UN report has warned. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

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South Asian countries, especially Bangladesh and India, face increased risks of more frequent and severe flooding because of climate change, a UN report warns.

Bangladesh and India are also among vulnerable nations that will be hit hard by droughts due to the increased concentration of pollutants and low-quality groundwater sources, the report said.

The World Water Development Report 2020 by UN-Water, published on March 21, provides a global study of freshwater sources and analyzes the link between water and climate change.

Climate will continue to change and affect societies globally as it "will affect the availability, quality and quantity of water for basic human needs, threatening the effective enjoyment of the human rights to water and sanitation for potentially billions of people," the report noted, urging states “to make more concrete commitments to address the challenge.”

The report pointed out that monsoon flooding in 2017 affected 40 million people in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, claiming nearly 1,300 lives and putting 1.1 million people in relief camps.

"Floods could cost South Asia as much as US$215 billion each year by 2030. Floods are also expected to contaminate water sources, destroy water points and sanitation facilities, and therefore pose a challenge to universal access to sustainable water and sanitation services," it added.

In low-lying riverine nation like Bangladesh, flooding is a common natural disaster that affects millions and kills hundreds every year, but there are few efforts to address flooding with long-term and concrete planning, experts say.

“Since 2016, we have seen a change in weather — a gradual increase in rainfall while the level of seawater is on the rise. These are the symptoms of climate change that the UN study warns about. Sadly, our country does not have a long-term plan to address annual flooding apart from some short-term plans such as relief and rehabilitation after flooding,” Sukleash George Costa, regional director of Catholic charity Caritas Rajshahi, which covers flood-prone northern Bangladesh, told UCA News.

Dykes and river embankments are often substandard and cannot withstand strong flooding, while disaster management planning fails to address local situations due to a centralized approach, he noted.

As major rivers in South Asia are transboundary rivers, so all states in the region need to formulate and follow a joint framework for river control for greater welfare of people, Costa added.

In most cases, state and NGO efforts to tackle flooding fall flat due to a lack of proper community involvement and accountability, said a professor of geography and environmental sciences at state-run Begum Rokeya University.

“I have serious doubts whether our policymakers have enough concerns about the future state of our country in terms of climate change compared to observers. There is no doubt about more flooding and more damage as predicated, but we don’t have a long-term plan,” the professor told UCA News on condition of anonymity.

Despite having a comprehensive Delta Plan, Bangladesh has not taken sufficient measures to implement it, he lamented.

“We are taking short-term measures every year but not long-term efforts in line with the Delta Plan. It cannot be sustainable without proper community involvement, accountability and multi-layered design to address the local situation,” he added.

Bangladesh formulated its Delta Plan 2100 in 2018. It seeks to combine long-term strategies and interventions to ensure water and food security, economic growth, environmental sustainability, a reduction in vulnerability to natural disasters and better climate change resilience.

The government has taken various measures under the plan to tackle increasingly hostile weather, said Saifur Rahman Khan, a director of the state-run Department of Environment.

“The prediction of more and severe flooding is not unexpected, and we are preparing for it. We have been excavating canals and dredging rivers, building strong river embankments and flood shelters, which altogether can reduce the risks of losing lives and properties during flooding,” Khan told UCA News.

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