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187sq km of Dhaka wetland destroyed in 13 years

Ershad Kamol

The government and private developers have dirt-filled an estimated 187 square kilometres of permanent and seasonally-flooded wetlands in and around Dhaka in 13 years since the passage of the Wetland and Open Space Conservation Act 2000.
Urban planners said that such dirt-filling of wetlands had increased after the government  notification of the strategic master plan for Dhaka, known as the Detailed Area Plan, in July 2010. The act and the plan were both meant to stem such destruction of wetlands.
Experts believe that such urban development will not only destroy the city  drainage system and underground water sources but also add to traffic congestion and earthquake risks.
M Tanvir Hossain Shubho, a teacher of urban and regional planning in Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology who analysed satellite images of Dhaka and bordering areas between 2000 and 2010, said Dhaka loses 20 square kilometres of wetland on an average a year.
Another study of the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services conducted found that in 1967, permanent wetlands covered 14 per cent (20,686ha or 207sq km) of the area in Dhaka, settlement and urban development covered 37 per cent (53,727ha or 537sq km) and farm land 49 per cent (69,667ha or 697sq km).
The study that analysed satellite images form archives showed that a year before the enactment of the wetland conservation act, permanent wetland had reduced by more than a third to 6,298ha (63sq km) with settlement and urban development area increasing to 60,702ha (607sq km).
The study showed that by 2010, permanent wetlands had reduced by a further 11sq km to 52sq km (5,520ha) with the area used for urban development increasing by another 74sq km to 68,144ha (681sq km).
In the same period, seasonally flooded wetland reduced from 415sq km to 313sq km.
On the eastern fringe of Dhaka, from Pragati Sarani to the east to the River Sitalakhya, New Age found that an estimated 150 square kilometres of low-lying areas, almost the size of the Dhaka metropolitan area, is now being developed.
‘We used to catch fish in monsoon and grow vegetables in winter in the low-lying areas even a decade ago,’ Rahim Miah, who lives at Manda on the outskirts of the capital, said.
M Mujibur Rahman, a teacher of civil engineering in BUET, said, ‘Government agencies such as the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority have already destroyed the canals inside the city. The destruction of wetlands and canals by private developers will ruin the drainage system and cause severe stagnation.’
‘It will also destroy the ecosystem and harm the underground water recharging process, which is the major drinking water source for the city,’ he added.
‘The Detailed Area Plan, which has not restricted development of low-lying areas, however, said demarcated wetlands in low-lying areas should be protected. But this has never been adhered to,’ Ishrat Islam, another teacher of urban and regional planning in BUET, said.
An ongoing study of Khondoker M Ansar Hossain and Saiful Islam, who are members of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners, shows that Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, which is supposed to enforce the Detailed Area Plan, has breached the guidelines of the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan in all its three ongoing land development projects.
Their analysis of satellite images showed that since 2000, Rajuk had dirt-filled retentions ponds in the areas as demarcated in the Detailed Area Plan.
Rajuk dirt-filled a retention pond in its Uttara Phase 3 project, the main flood flow zone, sub-flood flow zone, agricultural land and forest areas in Purbachal New Town, and sub-flood flow zone and agricultural land in Jhilmil project at Keraniganj even after the passage of the act in 2000.
The urban planners further claimed that other government projects at Keraniganj such as the Pangaon Inland Container Terminal, the New Central Jail and an army training ground had also been developed on the main flood flow and sub-flood flow zones and agricultural land that were demarcated in the Detailed Area Plan.
‘Rajuk projects have inspired private developers to do land development job in advancement areas demarcated as retention pond, flood flow zone and sub-flood flow zone in the Detailed Area Plan. We have found that wetland destruction intensified after the adoption of the Detailed Area Plan in July 2010, involving private developers in five points such as Jarun of Kashimpur, Biralia at Savar, Beraid at Gulshan, Kayetpara at Rupganj and Katasur Mohammadpur,’ Ansar Hossain, also a former general secretary of the Institute of Planners, told New Age.
Bangladesh Land Developers Association’s general manager AKM Nawsherul Alam told New Age that the developers chose places near the Rajuk’s projects. ‘Only in places adjacent to Rajuk’s Purbachal project and in Rupganj, did the development works continue after 2009, but most of the developments had been before enactment of DAP,’ Alam said.
Green activist Syeda Rizwana Hasan, however, said that Rajuk and private developers were in collusion in such development work.
‘Rajuk and land grabbers together have made a mockery of the law. The purpose of the master plan have been frustrated largely because of the money involved in the game. Politicians have helped in the process to their own advantage,’ Rizwana, also executive director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association, told New Age.
The Rajuk chairman, Nurul Huda, however, said that the projects had flaws when they had been taken up.
‘I have made corrections in the Purbachal project to save wetlands and forests,’ he said. ‘But I would not buy such criticism that Rajuk projects have inspired private developers to breach the law. We are taking action against such illegal development work.’

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