Saving the still remaining wetlands

Notwithstanding the apparent gloss and glitter of its high rise buildings, Dhaka is now a seriously endangered city. The once natural drainage system of the city with its many natural canals plus the surrounding wetlands that also helped the purpose of retention of drained waters and their gradual drainage, are largely things of the past.
Only a few natural drainage canals remain though in heavily encroached conditions. The areas of the wetlands have also shrunk from the activities of real estate developers and other encroachers. Compared to their earlier non encroached sizes, the extent of the wetlands today are far smaller. Thus, any sensible person can see the imperative of saving these wetlands and remaining canals from grabbing in the name of developing them not to speak of trying to set them free from their present encroachments as well. The city of over 16 million turn into a flooded one in almost all of its parts even after a short period of heavy rains.
A wise coexistence of man and nature was visible at the initial days of development of Dhaka. Until 1950, development of the city took place on the higher terrain and the encompassing rivers, networks of canals and the wetlands were harmoniously used for transportation, defence, fishing or agricultural purpose.
Vast tract of wetlands at close proximity to the central city has been attracting private developers since 1980s. After construction of the Western Flood Embankment, unplanned development stretched rapidly toward the low lying areas violating all the laws and regulations. Designated flood zone at the south and west of Dhaka are also experiencing the similar fate. It should be kept in mind, even after completion of the Eastern Embankment, a sizeable percent of land should be kept as retention area for storm water storage (according to the study of JICA).
It was evident from catastrophic floods in 1988, 1998 and 2004 in the city that the poor discharge capacities of the existing natural drainage channels are responsible for the longer duration of floods. City dwellers experienced the severity of rain flood during the month of September 2004. Entire city collapsed at that time for poor drainage system of the city. Low-lying lands around Dhaka works as natural retainers of storm water, acts as natural drainage network and certainly help to keep balance in ecosystem. Land filling activities in those restricted areas have been going on even after enactment of the Water Body Conservation Act 2000 which prohibited any kind of development in the wetlands. Thus, the Detail Area Plan (DAP) for the city proposed that at least 21 per cent of the city’s present and projected areas must be reserved as water bodies where no real estate development activities would be permitted.
But this meritorious proposal triggered the wrath of the developers . They made it transparent in their last meeting with the Minister concerned that they would be prepared to go to any lengths of misconduct, piling of pressure and other tactics to have the DAP changed in their favour. Therefore, the responsibility becomes greater for the Minister and the government to be even more firm in their commitment to DAP. DAP has been drawn up in the interest of a planned Dhaka, to save it from collapse due to all kinds of unregulated activities specially from real estate developers. The best interests of 16 million residents of the city cannot be allowed to be sacrificed at the altar of a limited number of greedy developers.
However, it is also true that developers’ interests cannot be so bluntly ignored either. Over the years, they intruded into the wetlands from a policy vacuum on the part of the government and no enforcement measures whatsoever against the same. They have also invested huge sums of money in partial attempts to develop the areas of the wetlands they intruded. In some cases, they have even taken money from private persons as plots sold to them. Therefore, the reasonable course would be government making some compromises in areas of the wetlands where the developers have already gone to work. But government’s policy from now on should be one of sending very convincing and very stern signals to the developers that they have proceeded this far but won’t be allowed to move further . This means that their further intrusion into the wetlands would be absolutely prevented in each such case from now on by the sternest application of the law.
It is a myth that today no wetland remains for conservation. Expert studies show that Dhaka is still left with 19.3% of wetland, which requires immediate attention. Wetlands are like living beings. Once they are destroyed, they cannot be brought back to life again. Programme for restoration of wetlands of Dhaka can be termed as the life saving drug for the survival of our beloved city and its surroundings.