Experts say expected progress could not be made due to a lack of initiatives to execute the priority projects under the mega plan
Two years after the beginning of its implementation, the hundred-year Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 undertaken to tap the maximum potentials of Bangladesh as a deltaic region through water resources management, ensuring food and water security and tackling disasters is falling short of most of its initial targets.
The government in the Delta Plan set a target to bring down the number of flood vulnerable people in the country to 60 million by 2020. However, according to the state-run Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), at least 80 million people in the country are still defenseless against flooding.
Achievement in targets like reducing the extent of areas prone to natural disasters such as waterlogging, cyclone, drought, salinity intrusion, and river erosion and bringing down the number of population susceptible to those calamities also fall short of expectations.
Expected progress could not be made also in various indicators including availability of renewable water resources, creating skilled manpower for water resource management and access to water.
A report styled "Bangabandhu and National Statistical Organisation: Analysis of data regarding socio-economic development of Bangladesh" published by the BBS has come up with these revelations.
Even though the Delta Plan includes a specific work plan for the future, the extent of disaster-prone areas and the number of vulnerable people are not coming down because of a lack of initiative to implement the priority projects, experts think.
They have also urged the government to take up prompt measures to boost capacity for disaster risk reduction.
The BBS report says the government had set a target to reduce the average flood extent to 25% of the total land area of the country by 2020, but around 30% of the total area was inundated during this year's flooding.
Besides, the maximum extent of severe flooding was targeted to be reduced to 35% of the total area, but, in reality, around half of the country's land area still goes under water during severe floods.
Around 10% of the total area is currently at risk of cyclone, although the government had targeted bringing down the amount of cyclone-prone areas to 4% of total area by 2020.
Besides, the extent of saline water intrusion was targeted to be reduced to 35% of the total coastal area by this year, but salinity intrusion is currently taking place in 40% of the country's coastal land.
The BBS report also reveals that 97.9 million people are currently vulnerable to various natural disasters, although the government had set a target to bring down the number of such people to 67.9 million by this year.
Planning Commission sources said the National Economic Council (NEC) approved the Delta Plan in 2018 — the longest climate compatible development plan in the country's history.
The General Economics Division (GED) of the Planning Commission has tailored the document under the theme of 'Adapting to Climate Change' with a view to taking the country forward by tackling the effects of climate change.
Eighty projects have been marked to be implemented by 2030, and 65 of them are about infrastructural development which will cost the government Tk29,782.74 crore.
At this time, 2.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) will be needed to implement the plan. A total of 248 projects related to the plan were allocated about Tk22,000 crore under the Annual Development Programme (ADP) in FY2019-20. The amount was 10.81% of the total ADP allocation and about 0.86% of the GDP.
A delta fund worth $37.50 billion has been created to finance the plan while a delta governance council led by the prime minister was formed to oversee the implementation.
The Delta Plan divides the country into six hotspots on the basis of 33 types of risks due to climate change and unplanned urbanization.
Under the plan, an area of about 135,086 square kilometers, which is more than 91.5% of the country's land area, encompasses the risk zones.
By implementing the plan, the government targets to raise the GDP growth rate to 9% by 2030, while the Planning Commission estimates the country will keep losing 1.3% of its GDP per year if the plan is not executed.
Contacted, Dr Saiful Islam, professor of Water Research Institute at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said three major cyclones have caused extensive damages since the beginning of delta plan implementation. "This year, we have witnessed the longest flood after the '90s".
He claimed that the damages would have been further reduced if the proposed projects under the plan could be implemented on a priority basis.
He said the people of the country are at risk of disasters as before as the government could not improve in disaster management and preparedness. Salinity intrusion in the coastal areas is also on the rise. A lack of irrigation water for agriculture is up.
"If the damages caused by disasters are not reduced, then what is the point of such mega-plans?" he said.
Asked for comments, Dr Shamsul Alam, senior secretary and member of the GED, said two years is not enough time for reviewing the progress of such a long-term plan. However, there were some qualitative and quantitative targets for this period, progress in which has not been up to the expected levels, he mentioned.
Claiming that good progress has already been made in a number of areas, he said although .58% of the GDP was previously spent on water management every year, this year the government has allocated 1.3% of the GDP for this purpose.
"Almost all the major rivers in the country have been brought under the coverage of dredging to increase their navigability. Water reservoirs are being built by excavating canals, beels and ponds under various projects. A cross dam is being constructed in Noakhali to recover land," he said, adding that it will take a few years to reap benefits from these initiatives.
He also said that the government has taken up an initiative to build the two sides of the Jamuna River as economic corridors by recovering huge amounts of lands through channelisation of the river, improving the irrigation system, increasing agricultural activities and improving water transportation system.
Md Rafiqul Islam, joint director of the Census Wing of the BBS, was in charge of editing the statistics bureau report.
While contacted, he said the report was prepared after reviewing the Delta Plan documents of the General Economics Division.
He also said all the information in the report was obtained from the Planning Commission.