Second wave of flooding raises fears for rice harvest

Less than a month after above average monsoon rains battered the country, a second wave of flooding is again badly affecting parts of Bangladesh.

Government officials said the overall death toll from flooding since July had risen to 840, most of whom had drowned, especially children, while others had died of snakebites. Eight people, including one child, drowned on 10 September.

The current floods, which began five days ago, have already forced over half a million from their homes and left tens of thousands stranded. The monsoon normally runs until the end of September.

The Teesta and Dharala rivers in the northwest and Surma in the northeast burst stretches of their flood protection embankments, inundating vast swathes of agricultural land and thousands of homes.

All major rivers in the north and central regions are rising alarmingly, with the Surma crossing the danger mark by nearly 20cm. The River Brahmaputra that flows north to south and forms the riverine backbone of Bangladesh is rising steadily.

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According to the country’s Disaster Management Information Centre, as of 11 September, the River Ganges-Padma is continuing to rise, while the flood situation in the south-central part of the country is deteriorating.

A Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) bulletin warned that the north, north-central and the south-central parts of the country faced a second spell of flooding in the next 36 to 64 hours.

Fears for agriculture

"Late floods usually last longer. If this happens this time it will affect our agriculture very badly. Planting of [the] `Aman’ paddy will be delayed. That may lead to poor harvests. Winter vegetable production will also be severely hampered," Saiful Hossain, head of the FFWC, noted.

The `Aman’ crop is the mainstay of rice production in Bangladesh, a staple component of the Bangladeshi diet. The other rice crop is `Aush’. Its volume is less than half that of `Aman’.

Local media said crops and vegetables covering a million hectares have already been inundated, while the actual figures will require more time to be worked out.

''We might be heading for a situation that might worsen the already existing hardship of our people, especially in the north, north-central and northeast regions of the country.''

Ainun Nishat, a representative of the International Union of Conservation of Nature, thinks the second round of floods could further damage the already battered economy and livelihoods of the rural poor. More than 75 per cent of the country’s 153 million inhabitants live in about 68,000 villages country-wide.

"We might be heading for a situation that might worsen the already existing hardship of our people, especially in the north, north-central and northeast regions of the country,” Nishat warned.

The country’s meteorological office on 11 September forecast heavy rainfall in most parts of Bangladesh over the next 24 hours.

Khondker Masud Siddiqui, director-general of the country’s Disaster Management Bureau said all necessary measures to meet the new flooding had been taken.

"The armed forces are still in the flood-affected areas. The civil administration and the armed forces will work jointly to help the flood-affected people," Siddiqui said.

Aid

The government of Bangladesh has sought an initial US$150 million in help from donor agencies with $60 million already pledged as immediate food and medical assistance.

Saudi Arabia alone promised $50 million, plus a shipment of five planes of food and medicine.

The World Bank (WB) will provide a $75 million loan in budget support to Bangladesh as emergency flood support, said Xian Zhu, WB country director for Bangladesh, at a press conference on 10 September.

Donors, including the WB, will increase their assistance further after getting the government’s estimation of total losses due to the floods, he added.

To date, the government has already received $68.3 million in aid from 14 bilateral and multilateral donors.

The Agriculture Ministry reckoned after the first round of floods that nearly $300 million of damage had been done to crops. Over 10 million people were also affected and hundreds of thousands left homeless.

sa/ds/cb