Economic Challenge with Floods

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dailysun_floodA.N. M. Nurul Haque

A total of 115 people were killed and another 5,888,220 affected by the sweeping flood in 30 districts across the country so far, according to the Disaster Management Department.  According to the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre, the water level of all the major rivers in the northern region are falling very slowly although some of them were still flowing above the danger level. The water level of the Dharla River fell by 28cm at Kurigram point and it was flowing only 1cm above the red mark while the Teesta was flowing 48 and 143cm below the danger level at Dalia and Kaunia points shedding 3cm and 8cm respectively.

According to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, 57 lakh 18 thousand people were affected in the ongoing flood and the number of families affected, were 13 lakh 22 thousand.

Crops on four lakh 68 hectares of land in 27 districts were affected by the floods.

Briefing reporters on August 19, the in-charge of disaster management control room, said 485,589 hectares of paddy field and 43,536 houses were completely damaged by the flood.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced that the government would provide food assistance to the flood-affected families for the next three months until the next crops are harvested. She said, “No one will remain homeless in the country, and the government will ensure food for all.” She also said, the government would do everything possible to ensure their food, healthcare and other necessities. “Arrangements have been made so that flood-affected people get food, and this will continue,” she said.

The Prime Minister made the announcement while addressing a rally at Dinajpur Zila School Shelter Centre marking the distribution of relief materials among the flood victims of the region. Hasina visited Dinajpur and Kurigram to see for herself the condition of the flood victims of the two northern districts on August 20. The PM distributed relief goods among the flood-hit people now in Dinajpur Zila School shelter under Dinajpur Sadar and Teghara High School shelter under Birol upazila of the northern district.

Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya said the government will reconstruct the damaged houses of the flood-affected people. He came up with the assurance while distributing relief materials among the flood victims at Govt Pilot Primary School field in Melandaha upazila in the district of Jamalpur. He said the government allocated 2,000 tonnes of rice and Tk 50 lakh in cash for the flood victims of Jamalpur district. “The Sheikh Hasina government won’t let anyone to starve.”

Although the flood situation has improved with rivers in the northern districts falling below the danger level, the flood-affected people are suffering badly because of heavy loss of lives and property. With the flood waters receding, people are returning to their homes from flood shelters but those living in the northern districts such as Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Dinajpur and Nilphamari have found the havoc caused by the floods. Against this backdrop, most of the country’s northern region is reeling under flood waters that have made countless number of people homeless and without food.

Road communication has become difficult in many parts of the northern districts with floodwaters washing away many roads and there is no immediate possibility of their restoration. In Dinajpur, though the floodwaters have receded and people have returned to their homes, many found their mud houses had collapsed, resulting in immense suffering.  Rice mill owners in the Pulhat area of the Sadar upazila said they had suffered a heavy loss of rice and paddy stored in their godowns, as they were unable to shift them to safer places before the floodwaters rushed in due to a breach in the embankment. They said it would be difficult for them to recover the loss and pay back bank loans.

The recent flash floods have caused extensive damage to crops including Aman paddy and vegetables in different districts across the country. According to media reports, rice production may fall by 5.50 lakh tonnes in Rangpur region as 1,69,335 hectares of land under five districts of the region inundated in floodwater. Besides, 3,397 hectares of vegetable lands remain under floodwater in the region. Around 5,34,380 hectares of land were brought under Aman cultivation in Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Gaibandha, Nilphamari and Rangpur this year, according to regional office of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) in Rangpur.  But saplings of newly planted Aman paddy on his 2.5 acres of land has started rotting as it remained under floodwater for last six days.

Eighty per cent of Bangladesh is on a low-lying flood plain, crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers and canals. So Bangladeshis must live with floods but everything should be done to minimize the adverse impacts of flood.  Like all natural disasters, floods are difficult to predict, despite the best efforts of meteorologists and climatologists. The government should better be prepared for floods, at all times, be it through the maintenance of embankments, maintenance of flood flow zones and drainage, ensuring supply of relief and availability of rehabilitation centres.

The economists of the country fear that floods may seriously hamper the country’s economic growth this year and prevent it from achieving the targeted gross domestic product (GDP), as the nature has been hostile to Bangladesh economy this year. In this year, some parts of Bangladesh, including the Haor regions in Sylhet were badly affected by flash floods, which made onslaught on the Boro paddy, the main crops in the Haor areas. A large number of people in the Haor areas are still bearing the brunt of the floods.

Rice, the staple food of people in Bangladesh, is selling at an unusually very high price. The government, however, has taken steps to reduce rice price in market, importing rice from global market. The price of various everyday consumable items including vegetables has already gone high as an affect of the floods. Not only that, supply chain has been seriously affected in different stages, including the transport and storage of products. A long term presence of this flood will greatly hamper agricultural production. This would also negatively impact the industrial output also.

It will be very difficult for the country to cross seven per cent GDP growth, given the country’s slow export growth. To face the economic challenge of recovering from the damages of floods and achieving seven percent GDP growth in this fiscal, the government should pay utmost care to agricultural sector.

The concerned departments should now be well prepared to extend full cooperation to the farmers for supplying all their necessities. Seeds and fertilisers should be supplied to farmers on top priority, helping them to recover from the losses and to restore normalcy to economic activities after the floods.

The government should take some post-flood rehabilitation programmes for the farmers who have lost homes and crops with free supply of seedlings and adequate supply of other essentials for cultivation including fertiliser. Although, the contribution of agriculture in the country’s GDP is not so high, still the losses in this sector is quite enormous.  A swift recovery from wounds of the floods as well as an added thrust to industrial sector and increasing export growth is really a big challenge for the country to achieve the stipulated GDP growth.

The writer is a columnist

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