When it rains, it floods

Courier Briefing
Wednesday, July 12th, 2017


The onset of the monsoon in June this year has proceeded to play havoc with the flood situation in some of the north-eastern districts of India and northern districts of Bangladesh.  The South Asian monsoon, which affects India, Bangladesh and several nearby countries, is a prominent atmospheric circulation system bringing crucial rainfall to the region annually. Rains are usually heaviest in June and July, although the monsoon can begin as early as May and end as late as September, depending on the year.


The South Asian monsoon, which includes the Indian monsoon, is especially strong because the Himalayas and other mountains block dry air in the north from getting to the humid monsoon region, according to World Monsoons, a site tracking monsoons around the world based at Yale University. The Southwest monsoon, as it is known, accounts for 70-80 percent of annual rainfall in most countries of South Asia. It is a key driver of socio-economic development and well-being in the world’s most densely-populated region which is regularly hit by devastating flooding and damaging droughts.


Because regions with a monsoon climate have distinctly wet and dry seasons, they are prone to floods and droughts, both of which are hazardous to health. During summer monsoons, heavy rainfall can cause flooding. Powerful floodwaters can drown victims and damage buildings, leaving people without homes and vulnerable to the elements.


Yet the main health hazards during summer monsoon season are diseases like cholera, dengue, chikungunya, and malaria, as well as stomach and eye infections. When floods cause water purification systems to become compromised, diseases like cholera can spread through unclean drinking water. Also, mosquitos that carry disease breed in open containers that fill with rainwater – from large water barrels and ponds to small coconut shells. Mosquitos that spread malaria, dengue, and chikungunya are common in the tropics. Because mosquitoes have more places to breed during the summer monsoon rains, there are more mosquitos.  That leads to more mosquito bites that spread disease. We have been witnessing this as well in Bangladesh, with the spread of chikungunya (see next story).


In late April, the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum  (SACFO) released its consensus forecast of a ‘normal’ monsoon for the region this year, although with considerable regional variability. In doing so it confirmed the India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) prediction about the most likely normal rainfall during the 2017 southwest monsoon season over much of the South Asia.


According to the outlook, normal rainfall is expected over the Southern parts of Asia, while above normal will occur over the broad areas of eastern and south western parts of the region. Below normal is expected over the areas of north-western, central and south eastern parts of South Asia.

Cats and dogs


On June 7, the IMD said India’s monsoon rains are expected to reach 98 percent of the long-term average this year, 2 percentage points higher than its previous forecast.


India’s monsoon rains were 35 percent above average in the week ending July 6. That figure was as high as 57 percent above the norm for the northwestern part of the country. The June-September monsoon has so far delivered 1 percent higher rainfall than average.


The start of July has been particularly wet it seems, across both countries. Although the Bangladeshi authorities don’t release specific, regular updates in the same manner as their Indian counterparts, purveying figures available on the Flood Forecast and Warning Centre’s website for rainfall in July, Dhaka Courier was able to verify July rainfall is on course to exceed the historic average, or ‘normal’ level, in several stations where rainfall is measured across the four basins of the country.


For example in the Brahmaputra basin, in Dalia, where the normal rainfall for the entire month of July is 687.4mm, the first 11 days of the month had already seen 338.00mm of rain. Dhaka, where the July normal is 360.20mm, had already seen 209.00mm by July 11. Gaibandha, where the July normal is 444.90mm, was on 199.00mm by July 11. Similarly Bogra, Chilmari, Kurigram and Rangpur are all also on course to beat their July averages. All in all 7 out of the 13 locations that fall in the Brahmaputra basin are set to the same.


In the Ganges basin, for which rainfall is measured in 18 locations, 11 (Barguna, Barisal, Bhagyakul, Faridpur, Jessore, Khulna, Naogaon, Pabna, Panchagarh, Patuakhali, and Rajshahi) are on course to beat their July average based on rainfall received till July 11.


The situation is a bit more under control in the Meghna basin, but then in what is known as the South Eastern Hill Basin, six out of 10 locations had by July 11 witnessed rainfall at levels that suggest they may exceed their monthly average. One, Teknaf, had already surpassed it. The other six witnessing excessive rains at the start of July have been Bandarban, Lama, Narayanhat, Noakhali, and Ramgarh.


Bearing the brunt


Onrush of water from the upstream and heavy rainfall triggered by monsoon showers over the last several days inundated vast areas of six districts–Sirajganj, Nilphamari, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Pabna and Lalmonirhat, as of Monday, July 10.


The flood situation in the districts has worsened following the rise in water level of different rivers, reported our sister newsagency UNB.


In Sirajganj, the flood situation in the district further deteriorated on Monday as the Jamuna is flowing 34 centimetres above the danger level. Besides, erosion caused by the strong current of the Jamuna in different places also added to the woes of the flood-hit people, rendering 60,000 people of five upazilas marooned.


Syed Imam Hasan, executive engineer of Water Development Board, said they feared continued rise of waters of the Jamuna following the heavy rainfall in Assam and Meghalaya states of India on Sunday.


Teesta River at Dalia point is flowing 32 centimetres above the red mark, rendering 10,000 people of four upazilas of the district marooned. The authorities concerned have opened the sluice gates at different points to tackle the situation.


In Lalmonirhat, more than a half lakh people of shoal areas of Teesta and Dharala rivers were trapped in floodwater. At least 63 villages of Hatibandha, Kaliganj, Aditmari, Sadar upazilas were inundated with floodwater.


The water level of Teesta River is flowing 18 centimetres above the danger level while Dharala River water is flowing 13 centimetres above danger mark. Embankments in Shiberkuti area of Kulaghat upazila and in Dhuni area of Hatibandha broke down as the Indian government opened 54 gates of Gajaldoba barrage.


Following the incident, the Teesta Barrage Authority is trying to control the water by opening 44 gates of the barrage, according to sources at local office of Bangladesh Water Development Board. The people were suffering from scarcity of pure water, sanitation, food and enough shelters, witnesses said.


In Kurigram, the overall flood situation has further deteriorated as new areas are going under water due to the increase of water levels of all the rivers including Brahmaputra, Teesta, Dharala and Dudhkumari.


The water level of Brahmaputra River is flowing 20 centimetres above the danger level at Chilmari point while Dharala River at Bridge point is flowing 12 centimetres above the danger mark.


More than 1.5 lakh people of over 200 villages of Ulipur, Chilmari, Roumari, Rajibpur and Sadar upazilas have become marooned. Scarcity of food and pure water has become acute in the flood-affected areas and normal life is being hampered as many roads went under water. People are facing acute shortage of food and drinking water.


Waterborne diseases were spreading fast in the flood-hit areas while no relief or medicine reached yet. At least 80 educational institutes were shut down following the flood, said locals, adding that hundreds of hectares of cropland were inundated.


District Civil Surgeon Dr SM Aminul Islam said a total of 88 medical teams have been formed for rendering services to the flood victims. Moreover, the district health department has cancelled all kinds of leave for its staff including doctors and health assistants to tackle any situation, he added.


Contacted, Deputy Commissioner of Kurigram Abu Saleh Mohammad Ferdous Khan said some 2,000 packets of dried food, 150 metric tonnes of GR rice and Tk 3,25,000 were allocated for the flood affected people. So far, the overall situation is under control, he further said.


In Gaibandha, the water level was flowing 17 centimetres above the danger level in a tributary of the Jamuna and Brahmaputra rivers swamping fresh villages and accelerating river erosion in Sadar, Sundarganj, Pulchari and Saghata upazilas. Early Monday, at least 15 houses were washed away by the water due to river erosion by the Brahmaputra, witnesses said.


In Pabna, water level of Jamuna river rose flooding fresh areas of Kajirhat, Nagarbari and Bera. The river erosion also took a serious turn in the district following the fresh flood.


Bogra not spared


In Bogra, around 50,000 people are marooned in Sariakandi upazila of the district as water level of the Jamuna River kept on rising due to heavy rainfall and onrush of water from the upstream.


The water level of the Jamuna increased by five centimetres in 24 hours and was flowing 25 centimetres above the danger level, according to data of the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) as of July 9. Sources at Sariakandi Upazila Project Implementation Office said about 50,000 people of 50 villages are marooned as the flood inundated fresh areas.


Besides, 51 primary schools and six secondary schools were inundated, hampering the academic activities of those schools. Meanwhile, one primary school and a madrasa went under flood water due to riverbank erosion at Boirakandi union.


Flood water damaged crops of about 3,500 hectares of land, said officials of local Upazila Agricultural Extension Office. Upazila Project Implementation Officer Sarwar Alam said they distributed 20 kg rice among 1000 flood-affected families and they have adequate stock of relief materials to face the flood situation.


Fear of disease grip Sylhet


Persistent downpour for the past several days and hilly flash floods inundated fresh areas in Balaganj upazila of Sylhet district, reported UNB.


The flood situation in areas of five other upazilas remained unchanged spreading waterborne diseases. The number of water-locked people in the Jakiganj, Beanibazar, Golapganj, Fenchuganj, Osmaninagar and Balaganj upazilas of the district ran over 250,000 and keeps rising every day.


Health officer of Balaganj Upazila Health Complex Anisul Rahman said the hospital premises are flooded and cut-off from the community causing acute suffering for patients already admitted as well as those looking to visit. They have formed a medical team to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases in the area but they are running low on medicine to cover the whole area, Anisul further said.


Thousands of people were suffering from scarcity of safe drinking water and food buttressed by the poor sanitation system. Around 15 more educational institutes freshly went under water on July 3, witnesses said.


Rahat Anwar, deputy commissioner of the district, said that the authorities concerned have shut 174 educational institutions as those were submerged by floodwater.


Not that educational institutes alone have suffered. All sorts of buildings and structures have gone under water in the ongoing flood, as the Kushiara River was flowing 21 centimetres above its danger level.


Besides, academic activities in some 137 educational institutions of Barlekha upazila in Moulvibazar district and Golapganj upazila of Sylhet district are being seriously hampered due to the flood.


With the overall flood situation in Moulvibazar remaining unchanged through July 6, the Daily Star reported thousands of people in the district’s three upazilas were suffering due to shortage of relief supplies.


UNB reported on July 11 that the flood situation in Sylhet remained static, though the Kushiara and Surma rivers were both flowing over 60cm above their danger levels at Amalshid and Sheula points respectively on Tuesday.


The flooding has affected some 900,000 people and displaced thousands of families, Disaster Management and Relief Ministry Secretary Shah Kamal told Xinhua.


According to the senior government official, the authorities have already rushed disaster response teams to carry out rescue work, distribute relief materials and supervise centres where nearly 2,000 families have taken shelter.


“Some 900,000 people are affected due to floods in three districts,” Kamal said, referring to Sylhet and Moulvibazar in north-eastern Bangladesh and Cox’s Bazar in the south-east.

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