Delta Plan 2100
It will go down as a great milestone of the incumbent government of Bangladesh for framing, unfurling and adopting the Delta Plan 2010 recently. The plan is a perspective one with short, medium and longer term components. It aims to address the entire physical security needs and economic requirements of the country in the next nearly one century in phases. In sum, it is a guideline to harness the huge potentials of Bangladesh as a Delta country through extensive water resources management, ensuring food and water security and tackling natural disasters. Implementation of the plan successfully could underwrite the security and viability of Bangladesh well beyond the next 100 years. The plan will likely be supported amply by the entire donor community but specially by the Netherlands government and the World Bank.
The government will initially take 80 projects to implement at six ‘hotspots’ by 2030 at an estimated cost of $37.5 billion in the first phase of the plan. The National Economic Council endorsed the plan in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on September 4. The initial projects will include 65 ptojects for infrastructure development and the rest for developing organisational capabilities, skills and research, according to Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal.
The projects are expected to add 1.5 percentage points to the annual growth of Bangladesh’s economy by 2030. “This is the first time Bangladesh has taken such a long-term plan,” the minister told reporters after the meeting. The large projects like capital dredging of the Padma River under the plan may not end by 2030, according to him. “Project implementation will continue until 2100. Funding will be regularly allocated for these projects,” he said.
The government is calling ‘hotspots’ the places that have been prioritised in the plan, according to Prof Shamsul Alam, a member of the Planning Commission’s General Economics Division. The six hotspots are the coastal areas, Varendra or Barind and drought-prone areas, Haor or backswamps and flood-prone areas, hilly areas, river and estuaries region and urban areas.
Water scarcity is the main problem in the Barind and drought-prone region. The water table in this region has dropped to 70,000 to 80,000 feet under the surface, according to Prof Alam. The government is taking measures to reserve rainwater in the region for irrigation and other uses under the Delta Plan 2100, he said.
Sanitation and shortage of drinking water are the problems in the Haor areas, where the government will dredge rivers to reserve rainwater as well as prevent flash floods, according to Prof Alam. The plan also includes work to prevent salinity, and cyclone and other natural disasters, Minister Kamal said. Bangladesh will need around 2.5 percent of its GDP every year to implement the plan. It will need $29.6 billion annually for implementation until 2031.
The Netherlands, which reclaimed 6,000 square kilometres of land after implementing its own delta management plan, is helping Bangladesh execute Delta Plan 2100, the minister said. Needless to say, Bangladesh will also try to reclaim a big mass of land from the Bay of Bengal under the plan like the Dutch. Bangladesh, one of the countries vulnerable to climate change effects, initiated the plan three years ago and made it with around Tk 475 million Dutch aid.
A billion tonnes of sediment that the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and 200 other rivers bring from the Himalayas each year before crossing Bangladesh had caused the landmass to increase. A third of this sediment, makes it into the Bay of Bengal where new territory is forming from gradual deposition of the sediments. From this process in the next 50 years it could add up with the country gaining at least 1,000 square kilometers naturally. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted earlier that Bangladesh will lose 17 per cent of its land by 2050 because of rising sea levels due to global warming. The IPCC sounded more pessimistic about the inevitability of this sea level rise as it concluded that the Himalayan glaciers would melt very fast and completely by 2010. But now IPCC is eating its own words and saying that their conclusion about Himalayan glacier completely melting, fairly soon, was based on wrong and unfounded premises. Calculations about the surety of the sea level rise and its implications for Bangladesh, therefore, have notably weakened. But satellite images dating back to 1973 and old maps earlier than that show some 1,000 square kilometres of land have risen from the sea. A rise in sea level, if it really takes place as predicted, will partly offset this and slow the gains made by new territories, but there will still be a net increase in land. Under the circumstances, it is more likely that in the next 50 years Bangladesh may get a further large gift of land from the natural accretion process. The Head of Bangladesh Water Development Board’s Coastal Study and Survey Department, has also been analysing the buildup of land on the coast. He said findings by the IPCC and other climate change scientists were too general and did not explore the benefits of land accretion.
“For almost a decade we have heard experts saying Bangladesh will be under water, but so far our data has shown nothing like this,” he said. “Natural accretion has been going on here for hundreds of years and all models indicate that this process will continue for centuries more into the future, ” according to him. Dams built along the country’s southern coast in the 1950s and 1960s had helped to reclaim a lot of land and he believed with the use of new technology, Bangladesh could speed up the accretion process. “If we build more dams using superior technology, we may be able to reclaim 4,000 to 5,000 square kilometres in the near future,” he said.
Unfortunately, non inclusion of projects in the country’s annual development programmes (ADPs) to hasten land accretion in the country’s coastal areas means no earlier government in Bangladesh paid due attention to this exciting prospect. No allocations have been made over the years to build dams or other structures needed to accelerate the process of accretion of coastal lands. This attitude, undoubtedly, reflected a serious neglect of the vital national interests. Successive governments should have done all in their powers to accelerate the land reclamation process which holds out so much promise for this land hungry country. They should have been proactive in mobilising foreign assistance to realise the objective.
Already, bits of land mass have surfaced off the shores of Bangladesh and on some of these completely surfaced land masses human habitations are growing while others emerge during the ebbing of the tide and go under water during the tides. The latter types of land formations could be elevated to be permanently joined to the mainland by engineering to step up the land accretion process. Indeed, much of present day Bangladesh including the districts of Faridpur, Barisal, Noakhali, Patuakhali, etc., were formed, over time through the natural accretion process.
Let us hope that Delta Plan 2010 will now fill the void in systematically approaching the tasks for accelerating the process of land accretion in our coastal areas.