Towering Tides: building defenses against the sea

podlers Banglandesh. image from http://beahrselp.berkeley.edu/newsletter/social-and-environmental-change-in-bangladesh-integrated-social-environmental-and-engineering-isee-model/

Facing the bleak prospect of millions of its citizens being displaced in coming years due to storms and sea level rise caused by climate change, Bangladesh is building up existing coastal embankments in a bid to protect coastal lands and people. On November 2015, the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) signed a deal with the Chinese firm First Engineering Bureau of Henan Water Conservancy to start work on the Coastal Embankment Improvement Project-1… And as per the agreement, the Chinese firm is helping rebuild four polders in two coastal districts – Khulna and Bagerhat.

Bangladesh is a low-lying delta, making it one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. The coastal region adjoining the Bay of Bengal is characterised by a vast network of active tidal rivers. The strength of the tides and the flatness of the delta causes the tides to influence river processes a long way upstream in the southern estuaries. And climate change has intensified the tides in recent years.

“We will repair all 139 coastal polders considering the climate-induced changes presumed to take place by 2050 to protect coastal people from recurrent climatic disasters like cyclone and storm surge,” Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud told IPS.  He said the water development board is currently working to rebuild 17 coastal embankments in its first phase, and the remaining polders will be repaired gradually.

The Coastal Embankment Improvement Project Phase-1 (CEIP-1) involving 400 million dollars to rebuild 17 polders in six coastal districts – Khulna, Satkhira, Begerhat, Pirojpur, Barguna and Patuakhali. The height of 200-kilometre-long embankments will be increased by one to two metres and 58 regulators will be set up in the first phase.

Since the 1960s, Bangladesh built 139 polders to protect about 1.2 million hectares of land from seawater…According to the BWDB, about two billion dollars is required to fortify the coastal embankments to withstand natural disasters, including cyclone and storm surge, due to climate change….According to a study by the Dhaka-based Centre for Environmental and Geographical and Information Services (CEGIS), about one billion tonnes of silt flow through the river channels of the country every year into the Bay of Bengal. So siltation of peripheral rivers surrounding the embankments causes water-logging, which affects the polders. Poor maintenance of the polders also contributes to internal drainage congestion and heavy external siltation

Excerpts from Rafiqul Islam , Raising Walls Against the Sea, IPS News Service, May 12, 2016

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