STWR - Share The World's Resources

Search Newsletters Webfeeds
  • Decrease font size
  • Default font size
  • Increase font size
STWR has launched a new website:

This older website is no longer being updated and is due to be closed down within the next few weeks.

All of STWR’s own content has been transferred to the new website, but most of the third-party content currently on the old site will soon be unavailable.

If you have any questions, contact

India, China & Asia

Latest             News Alerts
Projects of Mass Destruction (PMD) and Floods in Bangladesh
Print E-mail

Three fifth of Bangladesh is now under water. About 50 million people are thrown from bad to worse conditions. Not everybody is suffering; there is a small section of people who feel joy with the rising water. They find their business (from alu-patal to fund stealing to huge (re)construction potential to flood control consultancy) booming.

24th July 2004 - Prof Anu Muhammad ~ STWR

Facing another flood, another experience of human disaster where should we look at? People in general are taught and eventually used to take flood sufferings-loss-tragedy as a curse of fate. The ruling local-global lords are happy to describe flooding as a natural disaster. I find the flood disaster as a close associate of the 'development' festival drama. In other words, the flooding is closely linked to grabbing of water land and filling them with shopping plazas and multistoried housing, and to big faulty projects of irrigation and flood control. All these contributed to bringing a country of free flow water to a water-logged country. This is a big story full with lies, hypocrisy, cheating, intellectual fraud and all-out plunder. To make it short I would like to discuss in brief on the water projects and the role of the World Bank, along with the ADB, who enjoy the status of "friend philosopher and guide" of local-foreign beneficiaries of human suffering in a country like Bangladesh.

A countrywide big flood in this land occurred in 1954. Thereafter Krug Mission under Mr. Krug from the US visited the then East Pakistan. Following the report of that mission Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) was established in 1959 and several flood control and irrigation projects were conceived. That was the beginning of a new era of massive intervention-injection-construction on the water life in Bangladesh. Since then we had plenty of projects for erecting embankments and other structures, also we experienced increased intensity of water logging including flood. The time gaps between two massive floods have been narrowing with increasing projects on flood: 1954 to 1974: 20 years, 1974 to 1987 and 1988: 13-14 years, 1988 to 1998: 10 years, and 1998 to 2004: 6 years. It is a linear progression!

In 1964, a 20-year master plan for water resources development was initiated. While WAPDA was established to take care of flood control and irrigation, Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) was given the responsibility of popularizing, distributing and marketing HYV seed, chemical fertilizer and pesticide. The programmes under both the authorities coincided with the grand "green revolution" of 1960s, which was a package program containing High Yielding Seed, Chemical Fertilizer, Pesticide and Mechanical Irrigation.

After independence, the government endorsed this "modernization approach" quite uncritically and took steps to carry the program further; no attempt was made to review this approach. In fact projects conceived in Pakistan were mostly implemented in Bangladesh. Therefore while around 482 small, medium and large water and embankment projects were implemented under the master plan between 1959 and 1993, around 400 of these projects were implemented after 1971. More than 8,200 kms of embankments were constructed under these projects. In addition, more than 4,700 kms of irrigation canals, 3400 kms of drainage channels, more than 9000 hydraulic structures (such as sluice gates and regulators), 4300 bridges and culverts, 96 pump houses and two barrages were built. Similarly, the agricultural inputs programs developed rapidly since 1965 and that continued thereafter with direct initiative and credit from the World Bank.

In 1972 the World Bank, for some reasons undisclosed, seemed critical about some of the projects that had been started in the 60s. It termed many of the projects as "poorly conceived" and 'ill-suited' to the particular needs of the country. It categorically named one, the Ganges-Kobadak irrigation and flood control project as "an example of a poorly selected and prepared project". But by then $132 million had been spent on that. According to the World Bank, "after 16 years of construction, redesign and reconstruction, the project failed to perform at even 50 percent of the original design standard" . Nevertheless, the same institution kept itself busy continuing similar old big projects and formulating similar new ones.

Earlier, the World Bank carried out extensive studies on the economy of Bangladesh specially on agriculture in the mid sixties. The Study was published just after independence and became the working documents of the new government. It framed the government's approach to agricultural and water resources issues. However, the reports were kept outside public scrutiny or discussion since those were labeled as 'confidential'. The marketing of pesticides, fertilizer, seeds and tube wells became an expanding economic activity under the initiative of international agencies at the same time. Another report was published in 1973 following a visit by a Bank group mission in Bangladesh. The mission reviewed "with Government agencies" the requirement for "agricultural inputs as well as potential projects and programs in the agricultural sector." But since the 'requirements' were already determined by the earlier studies of the Bank itself, therefore the report easily could say that their attention along with research programs "would be focused on HYV (High Yielding Variety) rice". It should be mentioned here that, none of these projects tried to study and improve local varieties, which might not require investment in chemical fertilizer, pesticide and groundwater irrigation, which was also being advocated by the Bank.

An integrated rural development program was also seen as a supporting tool of the above modernization program. The World Bank report stated that, it would support three high potential programs of the Ministry of Local Government: the Integrated Rural Development Program (IRDP), Rural Works Program (RWP) and the Thana Irrigation Program (TIP). The World Bank, however, gave particular importance on "strengthening of engineering input to the RWP by linking RWP activities with those of the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), and increasing the proportion of RWP effort devoted to construction of small drainage and irrigation systems to increase agricultural production."

Repeatedly, World Bank and other 'development' missions have noted the great potential for using ground water for domestic and agricultural needs and therefore advocated for its more intensive use. Number of water projects, such as, Brahmaputra right bank embankment project, Pabna project, Dakatia and Halda project, Barisal project, Ganges-Kobadak Kushtia project, Chenchuri and the Barnal, Salinpur-Bashukhali projects in the Khulna area, Surma-Baulai Haor and the Knowai River projects in Northeast region, River training, Chandpur riverbed stabilization project, Chilmari project, Kurigram project came into being.

To name a few, Chalan Beel, one of the richest wetland areas of Bangladesh, is now almost ruined by water projects. Due to construction of ill conceived embankments & regulators, drainage has been impeded and water logging has become a serious problem in Atrai-Hurasagar drainage basin. In Beel Dakatia huge area has been waterlogged for more than twenty years as a result of big water projects. After nearly thirty years of 'successful' and intensive tapping of groundwater nearly 35 million people in Bangladesh are now facing deadly threat from Arsenic poisoning. Experts opine that arsenic in the groundwater has links with indiscriminate use of groundwater. Now, again, the World Bank has taken the lead in conducting million dollar projects related to 'managing' the arsenic problem.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) also played a significant role in formulating and supporting similar programs. While numerous documents describe the processes leading to the initiation of flood control, drainage and irrigation (FCDI) projects, few exist that critique a project's completion or that post-project evaluation. Both the World Bank and the ADB had been the largest actors in these FCDI projects. They were involved in both surface water projects under the Bangladesh Water Development Board and ground water projects under the Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation. The share of these two institutions of the projects in the sector has been more than 70 percent.

Alan C. Lindquist, in UNDP sponsored agriculture sector review, reported that while the Asian Development Bank prepared "project completion reports upon completion of its projects" there was a "lack of completion of ADB projects in Bangladesh, even though some were begun ten years ago". In fact, he continued "ADB-Dhaka was not able to show me a single project completion report for one of their water projects". Lindquist, citing another review of Asian Development Bank water projects in Bangladesh, stated "only 3 out of the ADB projects attempted since 1973 have been completed and on average those took 72 percent longer to complete than projected."

On the other hand, Lindquist found World Bank's documents to be in comparatively good shape, although "diplomatic language is used in them and controversial issues are sometimes glossed over and not treated." He also observed that the economic assessment of the projects and assumptions were sometimes adjusted "to keep the economic rate of return calculation from going much below 15 per cent."

Consultants, local and imported, have been the major beneficiaries of these projects. Since these were all 'aided' projects, appointment of 'donor' preferred foreign consultants had always been compulsory. Irrespective of qualification, consultant fees have been a significant share of the project costs. Another study showed that, "foreign consultants cost 6.8 to 25 times as much as local Bangladesh consultants, and 57 to 73 times as much as their BWDB counterparts." Often 'aided' water sector projects has been considered by both local and foreign consultants/ engineers/ bureaucrats/ suppliers as something highly desirable irrespective of its relevance or even it's having harming element. Hugh Brammer, longtime associated with water sector projects in Bangladesh, witnessed an incident, wrote in 2002, "Where a Chief Engineer simply crossed out the word 'not' from the recommendation that certain soils were 'not suitable for irrigation" in the draft report on a detailed soil survey of a proposed irrigation project area. The authority was successful in obtaining funds from the donor to implement the project- which was a disaster.? He also observed that, "Bangladeshi consultants hired to carry out such surveys (and also project appraisals) were aware that "happiness reports" were more likely to ensure their future business than strictly objective reports on their findings."

All these highly expensive huge structural measures could not save Bangladesh from another disastrous floods in 1987 and again in 1988. Nevertheless, the water resources programs were intensified and pursued with more rigour. World Bank continued to pursue for similar projects. It went for a comprehensive program to "control flood" and "water management". After easy negotiations between local-global partners the World Bank gave birth to another, we may call in the era of WMD, a big project of mass destruction(PMD) i.e., Flood Action Plan which "would be the first step in the implementation of a comprehensive long-term program for flood control and drainage in Bangladesh." According to the World Bank, "embankments must be seen as elements of a comprehensive water control system planned and designed to modify the water regime in the interests of more profitable land use in an environmentally sound is the above considerations that have led to the 'compartment' approach...." In 1990 the Bank expressed its satisfaction with the impressive record of construction, with some 5,000 water control structures and over 6,000 km of embankment, of the Bangladesh Water Development Board and its predecessor agency even.

It is easy to find that the World Bank always advocates structural solutions to the flood problems that involve huge costs. Expensive projects have always been preferred, probably because expensive projects ensure a good fortune to the local-foreign parties involved. However, the Flood Action Plan was virtually abandoned in the face of criticism from home and abroad. But it was later replaced by the WARPO, which was basically the same programme under a new name. In 1998 another massive flood brought huge material loss and severe human sufferings. Again similar and bigger projects! And eventually we have now reached to 2004 flood.

A number of studies have examined the environmental impact of the water management projects. The beneficial effects were found to be: increased flood- free secured land for agriculture, livestock, settlement, industry and infrastructure; all-year accessibility; higher rice yields in both wet and dry season; expansion of cropping areas and the extension of the cropping period due to improved drainage; opportunity for fish culture in ponds; and reduced hazards from extreme floods and tidal surges. These beneficial effects, however, were often much lower in magnitude than the estimated benefits shown to justify the projects. Moreover, the benefit in project area in short term is not seen keeping long term effect in the area as well as in the area outside the project under consideration. Therefore, the benefits cost more per capita than shown in project proposals.

There are comparatively fewer studies to understand the costs and negative impact. Some studies found detrimental effects of those projects as follows: increased drainage problems behind embankments; reduced residual moisture in the dry season, especially on higher ground, hence reducing cropping options; deterioration of soil physical properties in waterlogged areas; reduction of nutrients derived from flood-prone sediments; hence reduced availability of soil nutrients and thus increased dependence on chemical fertilizer inputs; loss of natural flood-induced pest control; increased dependence on pesticides; trend to high yield variety (HYV) monoculture, reducing agricultural diversity; reductions in agro system resilience; as a result of above, the possibility of decreasing yields; potentially greater loss of crops under conditions of extreme flooding and embankments failure; loss of formerly flooded habitats for major capture fishery species; changes in hydrological regimes of remaining habitats; increased agrochemical runoff and contamination of surface waters; restriction of water-borne transportation by physical structures and siltation; increased depth of flooding, higher flood velocities and erosion of char and other unprotected active flood plains; loss of livestock grazing areas; increase in the incidence of diseases, such as cholera and malaria, as a result reduced flushing of polluted water sources. There is no evidence of the global institutions who sponsored these projects accepting responsibility for all these detrimental effects. Not surprising!

Despite all that has been done to make a country of free flowing abundant water into one that is water logged, it seems that the water sector becomes an increasingly more lucrative field for profit making investment of corporate bodies and beneficiaries. To them projects are not meant to solve the problems which lead to disaster but to permanent system of monitoring and studying the phenomenon that give well-connected parties a permanent way of making wealth. Flood just like Poverty give them immense opportunity to ensure fatty lives at home and abroad.

The floods today in 2004, therefore, are both a product of the flood control projects and also a good excuse to prepare more projects in similar line. With the money taken from people's pocket, flow of water is blocked, rivers are made dying, overflow of water become disastrous, water logging become permanent, situation become inhuman. On the crying- suffering millions of people, children and old, men and women the projects of mass destruction have been moving to build more graveyards.


Alan C. Lindquist (1988): Project Aid in Agriculture: Major (Surface Water) Flood Control, Drainage and Irrigation Projects, UNDP, Bangladesh Agriculture Sector Review, Dhaka.

Anu Muhammad (2003): "Bangladesh's Integration into Global Capitalist System: Policy Direction and the Role of Global Institutions" in Matiur Rahman (ed): Globalisation, Environmental Crisis and Social Change in Bangladesh, UPL, Dhaka

Asian Development Bank, ADB (1999): Bangladesh Responding to the Challenge of Poverty, Country Operational Strategy, August.

Halcrow and Mott MacDonald (1999): Water Resources Planning Organization (Warpo) Hugh Brammer (2002): Land Use and Land Use Planning in Bangladesh, UPL.

M. J. Alexander, M. S. Rashid, S.D. Dhamsuddin, and M. S. Alam (1998): Flood Control, Drainage and Irrigation Projects in Bangladesh and Their Impact on Soils: an Empirical Study. Land Degradation & Development, UK.

Philip Gain (ed, 2002): Bangladesh Environment Facing the 21st Century.

World Bank (1990): Flood Control in Bangladesh, A Plan for Action, May.

World Bank (1992): Bangladesh Food Policy Review: Adjusting to the Green Revolution, ( in two volumes) Volume1: main report, February.