Bangladesh is now well on its way to fulfil its ambitions to become a high middle-income country. The economic growth rates and poverty reduction have been achieved in spite of extreme adverse climate variability, with frequent storm and tidal surges, floods and droughts. The low-lying coastal zone of Bangladesh is however highly vulnerable, both to the normal tidally enhanced monsoon floods and to regular impact from tropical cyclones. Fifty-eight tropical cyclones affected Bangladesh during the period, 1960-2010. In addition, salt-water intrusion affects drinking water quality and limits food production in the coastal zone. Floods intensify the contamination of drinking water, causing outbreaks of contagious diseases. These serious problems are likely to become worse due to climate change, land subsidence and population growth. Climate change is expected to result in sea level rise, salinity intrusion and more frequent droughts and floods. Climate change is thus threatening the significant achievements made by Bangladesh in raising incomes and reducing poverty in the last two decades. If nothing is done, by 2050, climate change impact could make an additional 15 per cent of the country extremely vulnerable to floods and effect more than 35 million people in the coastal districts. Projections for 2050 or 2100 for Dhaka city are that it may grow into a mega city of 20 million inhabitants, thus posing an enormous challenge regarding facilities to be ensured (e.g. drinking water, water quality, urban drainage and environment).
Many challenges lie ahead for Bangladesh, the most important being pressure on land use, climatic impacts, environmental protection, governance, globalisation and macro-economic development. To address the expected impacts of climate change, there is a need for an integrated approach and consistent long-term plan to deal with the future land and water management issues in relation to water safety and food security as well as economic growth and to avoid colossal effects of natural hazards.
Bangladesh has already developed a lot in terms of strategies and plans. The challenge lies in preparing integrated long-term strategies as well as efficient coordination and effective implementation of the needed interventions in a well-coordinated and quicker way. Needed to that is a new concept of Adaptive Delta Management in the form of a water-centric, multi-sectoral techno-economic plan with a long term time frame. This has been conceptualised in the Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) 2100 which was initiated by the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) in 2014. The Prime Minister invited the Netherlands to assist the government in the formulation of the BDP 2100 because the Netherlands already prepared such a plan following Adaptive Delta Management methodology, not because of the characteristics of the Dutch delta. Currently, 12 countries work together in this area of Adaptive Delta Management under what has been recently called a Delta Coalition.
Meanwhile, a local English daily has published a write-up by economist Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad on the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100. The article titled “Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100: Not the most practical proposal” carries some factual mistakes and misconceptions. We present here the Delta Plan in its proper perspective.
In the first place, the BDP 2100 is not a development project but a strategic and coordinated planning process to attain long-term goals/targets in a phased manner. Such an integrated and coordinated planning approach, including facilities for better spatial planning and disaster management, is desirable for managing the natural resources and to fulfil the demands of sectors such as agriculture, fishery, forestry, livestock, industry, water supply and sanitation, environment, navigation etc. Institutional development and good governance are probably the most important factors in the fight for safety and security of life, livelihood and economy of the Bangladesh delta. There is an urgent governance challenge: the need for adopting an integrated approach in implementing and funding the programmes as designed under different sectoral plans. The various agencies under different ministries of the government have their own mandates. Lack of coordination is considered to influence the economy and society of Bangladesh adversely. The development culture could still be transformed more profoundly from a project approach to a coherent programme approach with a strong emphasis on adequate implementation following a whole nation approach. The recent and future anthropogenic changes in the hydrological cycle due to climate change, construction of dams and barrages in the upstream countries in combination with increasing water demand are expected to make future water governance and management even more challenging.
SOME FACTUAL OBSERVATIONS: Despite having polders, Bangladesh is facing major hydro-meteorological shocks, including inundation of coastal plains due to the high rate of sea level rise, salinity etc. In the article called ‘shocks’ are however only partly related to polders; they, to a large extend, relate to present issues of water resources where the BDP 2100 planning tries to find answers to. Besides, inundation of coastal plains is not only taking place due to high rate of sea level rise but also because of tidal surges/springtides or because of storm surges. The climate change impact is relatively low yet.
The author mentions the Inception Report of the BDP2100 and is clearly of the opinion that this is only a consultant’s document and that the planning process is dominated by western consultants. On the contrary, all documents which are published on the website are approved and owned by GoB. The Consultant team consists of 12 international consultants and 35 Bangladeshi consultants. More importantly, the approval process involves several stages of Plan preparation under experienced leadership of the General Economics Division of Planning Commission, Ministry of Planning in consultation with many stakeholders in the field and many experts from knowledge institutions including BUET, CEGIS, WARPO, reviews by more than 30 Bangladeshi experts, and guided by high level National Steering Committee chaired by the Principle Secretary and National Advisory Committee at the ministerial level headed by the Planning Minister.
TRANSPARENCY OF THE BDP 2100 FORMULATION PROJECT: The process is interactive and transparent in its approach; many workshops in Dhaka, a large number of interactive workshops in the field have taken place, many stakeholders are involved in every step taken. Around 1200 people have been involved in the 4 rounds of Delta special workshops all over the country, almost every district has been visited and 600 experts were involved in workshops and consultation sessions in Dhaka. More consultation will take place as soon as the BDP 2100 draft is prepared.
On the adoption of failed structural approach as stated in the article, the author is not correct; this is not at all a failed approach: protection is a fact and agricultural production and cropping intensity has increased in many areas, e.g., Matlab-Donagoda irrigation Project, Chandpur irrigation Project
Trans-boundary river issues are not absent; baseline study on regional cooperation has been prepared. The author gives a wrong impression of climate change and sea level rise: nobody and no model predicts 4m sea level rise for Bangladesh in next few decades; this is serious misleading of facts and projections.
BDP seeks strategies for various identified water related issues all over the country including coastal zones. SDG’s will certainly be part of BDP strategies.
Which way to go? The author believes in an ecological approach of water resources management. Who says that the BDP2100 approach is not also based on that? To face the challenges in a serious way, solving problems of suffering people, however, also requires structural interventions, if needed, and in a balanced way. Upkeeping and maintenance of any structural intervention must be much less than the streams of benefits over the years generated; otherwise why development works have to be undertaken? Therefore, recurring maintenance cost should not be a determinant of any development intervention.
(Prof Shamsul Alam, Ph.D, is a macro-planner and Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division, Bangladesh Planning Commission.)