Wasa spent Tk345 crore in two decades to maintain and develop canals, box culverts, and a stormwater drainage system
The Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has cleaned up five of 24 openings of the culvert stretching from Panthakunja Park in Karwan Bazaar to Russell Square in Dhanmondi.
The DSCC removed 1,100 tonnes of solid waste from the culvert between 2 and 19 January this year.
Days after taking over the authority of all the canals and culverts from the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa) on 31 December last year, both the DSCC and the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) kicked off the cleaning drive.
The city authorities have so far removed 12,000 tonnes of waste from canals and box culverts.
Earlier in the two decades since 2000, the Wasa spent Tk345 crore in six projects to maintain and develop canals, box culverts, and stormwater drainage system to make the city free of waterlogging.
Despite all these projects and initiatives, a number of canals have turned into the storage of various kinds of solid waste, several stopped flowing while others failed to maintain any sign of existence due to encroachment.
Stating that in 2020, Dhaka dwellers faced more severe waterlogging problems than in 2000, experts claimed that all the money spent on the Wasa projects has gone down the drain.
In the last rainy season, the daily life of Dhaka dwellers got interrupted because of waterlogging at Motijheel, the commercial hub of the capital.
Besides, Shewrapara, Agargaon, Hatirpool, and many other areas across the city went underwater up to four feet and even more in some places. Boats were introduced in the Matijheel area for transporting office goers.
For an example of encroachment, Dumni Khal, a waterbody near the 300-foot road in the capital beside the Pink City Housing projects, was totally blocked by illegal earth-filling by the owner of an influential business group and his wife.
Wasa Managing Director Taqsem A Khan did not reply to The Business Standard's query on why Wasa projects failed to prevent waterlogging in the city.
Meanwhile, Dhaka Wasa Board Chairman Gholam Mostofa acknowledged the failure of the government agency in keeping the city free of waterlogging but he put the blame on the financial limitations.
"Wasa worked with government funds. When we cleared canals and kept waste in a culvert, it brought no benefit. Even, sometimes we cleared half of a canal and stopped the remaining task due to a shortage of funds. Thus, we failed to solve the waterlogging," he explained.
He said the responsibility of maintenance of the drainage system in some areas was on Wasa and the rest was maintained by city corporations. Moreover, the area of jurisdictions was scattered, not in a row. That was another major problem.
Describing Wasa as a commercial organisation, he said, "We cannot spend the money that we earn from water sales on solving the waterlogging problem. Rather, we will spend the money to develop water production and the supply system."
On 31 December last year, the city corporations formally took over the management and maintenance of 26 canals stretching 84.5km and 10km of box culverts from the Dhaka Wasa, which was the authority since 1988.
What experts say
Experts said all the money has been wasted as the Wasa took various projects without considering their consequences.
Iqbal Habib, an architect and joint secretary of the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, said, "Only 30-40mm rain floods Dhaka and creates daylong waterlogging. The Wasa made a comprehensive plan but did not follow that. The agency took up various projects bypassing the plan."
"For example, Shantinagar area was elevated for removing waterlogging but no initiative was taken to clear adjoining canals for the water to flow to the nearby river. For this reason, waterlogging spread to nearby areas. Like this one, all the projects had various kinds of mistakes."
"Wasa covered the canals in the name of box culverts. All the city areas are covered with concrete. For this reason, soil cannot absorb water. Normally, the soil absorbs 40% of water. And there is no way for the extra runoff water to be absorbed," he said.
He suggested that the city corporations maintain a single mega plan, adopt manpower, equipment, and technology and negotiate with the government to get a proper allocation for the future.
Adil Mohammod Khan, secretary of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners, said, "The amount of money the Wasa spent on maintaining canals and rainwater is huge. They took projects from the perspective of the engineering solutions, but they did not put emphasis on a comprehensive plan."
"The Wasa was not active against encroachers. Similarly, they were not interested in taking projects in cooperation with other city authorities like the Rajuk and city corporations. They did these to benefit personally. Similarly, other authorities also were not interested in cooperating with Wasa. Thus, a lack of cooperation is also responsible for the wastage of huge amounts of money."
What city authorities say
ABM Amin Ullah Nuri, chief executive officer of the DSCC, said, "All the canals and drains are filled with waste. Our first priority is to clean the drains, excavate the canals after recovering those from encroachers."
"We will excavate the canals to ensure water flow after finalising their border lines so that water can easily flow to rivers."
He put emphasis on the regular clean-up of the canals throughout the year and in this local communities must play an important role.
Commodore M Saidur Rahman, chief waste management officer of the DNCC, thinks the city corporation has advantages as it has public representatives who can engage local communities.
"At the same time, we have some challenges too. Resisting encroachment is a big challenge. We want to implement a long-term plan where the financing will be a major challenge."
He also pointed out the lack of awareness among the city dwellers as another challenge for the city corporation.
"We are restructuring Wasa's ongoing projects as they were not well designed."
Canals of Dhaka
According to a recent study by the Work for Better Bangladesh, after the independence, there were 47 canals in Dhaka city.
Now, the number has come down to 26. Among the existing canals, most of them are filled with solid waste, and a festive mood of encroachment has brought them under the threat of extinction.