Economists fear flood-hit areas will take more time to recover from coronavirus shock
At a time when the government is pinning its hopes on the agriculture sector to ease the recovery of the economy from the coronavirus devastation, back to back floods have emerged as a major impediment to that process.
According to the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre, 26 districts have already been affected by floods so far this year, impacting the livelihoods of 30 lakh people.
Bogura farm worker Rostam Ali is one among them. Already severely affected by two and a half months of coronavirus shutdown, the poor daily wage earner had hoped to recover his income losses during the jute and Aman harvesting season. But the floods have washed away his plans.
"If there is no income, how will I support my family and pay the loan installments of the local NGO?" he asked plaintively.
The story of Manikganj farmer Bhikkhu Mia is not much different. Bhikkhu grows vegetables on his 2 bighas of land round the year and supports his family and meets his two children's educational expenses with the income from selling the vegetables in the local market.
However, the ongoing flood has inundated his land, damaging the standing crops completely. "I have lost everything," he said, trying to explain the crisis.
Though monsoon floods are quite common to Bangladesh, this year's flooding is different as the country is struggling to recover from the coronavirus fallout as well.
Economists are of the opinion that the floods will delay economic recovery in the affected areas, which is why the issue needs special attention from the government.
Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank's Dhaka office, said the coronavirus and flooding had put a stranglehold on lives and livelihoods.
"The floods have come at a time when we were hoping people would return to their regular activities and the economy would recover. But the flood-hit areas will take time to emerge clear of the shock caused by the virus," he told The Business Standard.
Damage caused so far
Farmers in the flood-hit areas say the natural calamity has ruined 13 varieties of crops, including paddy, jute and vegetables. The flooding amid the virus pandemic is a double tragedy for farm workers and rural people belonging to the low-income bracket.
In many districts, fish farms have gone under water and cattle growers are in a quandary on how to protect their livestock.
Data from the agriculture ministry note that the floods have damaged crops on 1.60 hectares of land. The losses, it is feared, will mount if the situation lingers.
In the first spate of floods, 11 varieties of crops were damaged in 14 districts, affecting nearly 3.5 lakh farmers.
The second rush of floods submerged 26 districts, including areas that had gone under water during the first flooding. Currently, a third flood is inundating increasingly newer areas.
The agriculture ministry is yet to make a calculation of the damage caused by the second and the ongoing third flooding.
"We have so far estimated a loss of Tk496 crore in agriculture incurred in the first spate of floods. Losses will add to the estimates if the situation is prolonged and flooding submerges newer areas," said Secretary Mohammad Nasiruzzaman of the agriculture ministry.
"There is currently no income in the flood-hit areas. The flood victims need prompt food and cash aid so that they can return to farming as soon as the water recedes," said Dr Jahangir Alam, an agri-economist and former director general of the Livestock Research Institute.
Dr Alam also suggested postponing a realisation of loan instalments in the flood ravaged regions.
After agriculture, the livestock farming sector has been the worst victim of the inundation. The Livestock Services Department said that cattle growers had incurred at least Tk4,500 crore in losses in the last three months owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
Livestock Services Department Director (Farm) Dr ABM Khaleduzzaman said, "The floods hit the cattle raisers even before the department could complete the detailed estimates."
In Sunamganj, pisciculture is clearly the worst victim of the natural disaster as floodwaters have inundated ponds belonging to 3,247 fish farmers in the district. The calculated loss is Tk30 crore. The third flooding is feared to increase the amount.
Sunamganj Fisheries Officer Mohammad Abul Kalam Azad said this year's flooding had put the farmers in a total mess. Many of them had lost everything and were unable to start over again.
Food security not under threat, yet
Economists said a bumper yield in the Boro season had placed the country in a comfortable situation in terms of rice stock, so there will be no shortage of the staple despite the damage caused to Aush crops.
Meanwhile, the government had placed particular emphasis on the Aush season amid the coronavirus situation to increase the stock of rice to enable food security to be further strengthened, said Dr Jahangir Alam. He added that back-to-back floods had dealt a blow to this endeavour.
In the opinion of experts, the country will be able to recover this loss of crops if farmers can sow Aman paddy as soon as the floodwaters recede. The government will have to take prompt measures to support farmers in this regard, they add.
Meanwhile, the recovery of losses caused to fisheries and vegetables will depend on how quickly their production is resumed in the post-flood situation. Until then, vegetables will be in short supply in the flood-hit regions, according to the experts.
Flood may worsen in next 4-5 days
Mohammad Arifuzzaman, Executive Engineer, Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre, said the floodwaters might continue to rise in the next four to five days, after which they could recede.
"But according to received updates, the situation remains unchanged in some areas," he added.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently forecast that this year's flooding in Bangladesh might turn out to be the longest since the one which devastated the country in 1988. According to OCHA, it is unlikely that the floodwaters will start receding before next month.
The Business Standard North Bengal Bureau Chief Hasibur Rahman Bilu, Rajshahi Correspondent Bulbul Habib, Sunamganj Correspondent and Tangail Correspondent Jafar Ahmed contributed to the report.