Flood Action Plan

Flood Action Plan (FAP) an initiative to study the causes and nature of flood in Bangladesh and to prepare guidelines for controlling it. FAP was based on several earlier studies by UNDP, a French Engineering consortium, USAID and JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency). The FAP included 29 different components of which 11 were regional, with some pilot projects, and the rest were supporting studies on issues like Environment, Fisheries, Geographic Information System, Socio-economic studies, Topographic Mapping, River Survey, Flood Modelling, Flood Proofing, Flood Response, etc. The aim of the FAP is to set the foundation of a long-term programme for achieving a permanent and comprehensive solution to the flood problem.

Known for centuries Bangladesh is a typical model of natural hazards. Some of the devastating natural hazards in Bangladesh are caused by floods, induced by the on-shore movement of cyclonic winds in coastal regions and excessive runoff water and rise in river water levels in flood plain areas. Coastal flooding associated with storm surges is always considered as a hazard irrespective of the scale of surges. This is because of the suddenness of the storm surges and the damages to lives and properties resulting from such events. Whereas, river floods in floodplain areas assume the proportion of hazards only according to the scale of the flood. Low (normal) floods are considered as a blessing because they contribute vital fertility (silt) and moisture to the land. Only an unusually high (abnormal) flood may cause widespread damage to lives, properties and crops.

In the 19th century there were six major floods occurring in 1842, 1858, 1871, 1875, 1885, 1892. In the 20th century, including the catastrophic floods of 1987, 1988 and 1998, eighteen major floods have been recorded: 1900, 1902, 1907, 1918, 1922, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1974 and 1984. Prior to 1954, records of such floods are seen to be sketchy and incomplete.

After the successive floods of 1954 and 1955 several studies were initiated and since then large investment has been made in the water sector and particularly in Flood Control. In 1987 and 1988 the country experienced disastrous floods. A multi-dimensional flood study - Flood Action Plan (FAP) was initiated which a UNDP Flood Policy Study preceded. FAP received much attention from the donors as the flood of 1988 level happens once in 100 years.

Flood studies Following the devastating floods of 1987 and 1988, the government of Bangladesh (GOB) undertook a comprehensive review of flood policy and flood protection measures. Immediately after the 1988 flood, work commenced on a Flood Policy Study and a Flood Preparedness Study. The two studies were undertaken jointly by a team of local and expatriate professionals with UNDP assistance and completed in early 1989. The recommendation of the Flood Policy Study was finalised in the meeting of a Working Group consisting mostly of government officials. At about the same time three other studies were carried out: Pre-feasibility Study of Flood Control in Bangladesh funded by the French government; the Eastern Waters Study, sponsored by USAID (largely concerned with a broader view of land and water resources management in the Ganges and the Brahmaputra basins) and the Report on Survey of Flood Control Planning in Bangladesh, sponsored by the Japanese government.

Meanwhile, the G7 summit in Paris in July 1989 expressed concern about the periodic flood problem in Bangladesh and took note of the different studies, referred to above. The government of Bangladesh in the meanwhile had requested the World Bank to coordinate efforts aimed at mitigation of flood problem in Bangladesh. The G7 Summit stressed the need for a coordinated action by the international community. Accordingly, the World Bank coordinated the preparation of a flood action plan. As it seems, in the course of the studies carried out following the 1988 flood, the GOB accepted the policy of high degree of structural protection as a key element of the long-term comprehensive flood control programme and adopted six broad principles for flood protection. The GOB also developed 'Eleven Guiding Principles', based on which all future planning were to be carried out.

Eleven guiding principles of FAP (1) Phased implementation of a comprehensive Floodplain aimed at: protecting rural infrastructure and controlled flooding to meet the needs of agriculture, fisheries, navigation, urban flushing and annual recharge of surface and groundwater resources; (2) Effective land and water management in protected and unprotected areas; (3) Measures to strengthen flood preparedness and disaster management; (4) Improvements of flood forecasting and early warning; (5) Safe conveyance of the large cross border flows to the bay of bengal by channelling it through the major rivers with the help of embankments on both sides; (6) River training to protect embankments and urban centres; (7) Reduction of flood flows in the major rivers by diversion into major distributaries and flood relief channels; (8) Channel improvements and structures to ensure efficient drainage and to promote conservation and regulation; (9) Floodplain zoning where feasible and appropriate; (10) Coordinated planning and construction of all rural roads, highways and railways embankments with provision for unimpeded drainage; (11) Encourage popular support by involving beneficiaries in the planning, design and operation of flood control and drainage works.

The action plan The World Bank reviewed the findings from various studies and finalised a Flood Action Plan in November 1989 comprising 26 components as an initial stage (1990-95) in the development of a long term comprehensive system of flood control and drainage works in Bangladesh. The Action Plan included project-oriented studies in all of the country's main regions along with supporting activities to promote better project design and execution.

FAP review Although implementation of the plan has not progressed as expected due to various delays and confusions, a review of the plan is still valid. Deep controversies exist among water resource planners as to technical options for finding a solution to the flood problems in Bangladesh. As seen, in the course of the studies carried out following the 1988 flood, the GOB accepted the policy of high degree of structural protection as a key element of the long term comprehensive flood control programme.

Whereas the Action Plan incorporates both structural and non-structural components, the study concludes that embankment will form the basis for controlled flooding. The key issue here is the technical feasibility of such a structural design, reliability of its performance and its eventual maintenance. It has been evident that the inherent weaknesses of compartmentalisation, for example, the earlier controlled flooding schemes have led to what is termed as 'human-made ecological disasters', such as inlets and outlets silting up and fields becoming clogged. Further, the criteria of equity and distributive justice do not seem to have been applied in order to determine 'who gains and who loses' from FAP and other flood related intervention.

The point to be seen as pertinent is that Bangladesh is affected by three types of flood: flash flood, river flood and rain water flood. The FAP has considered chiefly the river flood in the policy plan. And, therefore, has proposed construction of embankments along both the banks of the major rivers and interceptor drains in selected river interfluves. Again, these propositions are not based on the geomorphological and tectonic characteristics of the region with context to the country's location in only about 7 per cent of the total drainage basin area of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system. In this system, river is not the sole factor for the occurrence of flood. [M Aminul Islam]