The Sylhet City Corporation (SCC) has undertaken at least four major projects at a cost of around Tk400 crore in the last decade to solve waterlogging problems in the city by rescuing and digging various creeks and canals.
Most recently, in 2017, a large project involving a cost of Tk236.40 crore was taken up to free creeks and canals from illegal occupation.
During the rainy season, the canals flowing through the city are filled and the city becomes waterlogged as drainage is hampered due to the illegal grabbing of water bodies.
This season the rainfall has been comparatively less than other years. Yet, the city has been submerged in rain for at least three to four days.
To solve this problem of Sylhet city, SCC undertook a project worth Tk11 crore in 2009 to rescue the creeks of the city, another project worth Tk20 crore in 2013 and a mega project worth Tk236.40 crore in 2016.
In addition, several other small projects were implemented during this time to alleviate the water shortage in the city. However, despite spending so much money, these projects have not been very successful as they have not been able to oust the influential occupiers.
Creeks originate from the hills on one side of Sylhet city and join the River Surma on the other side. About 25 big and small creeks used to flow through the city of Sylhet but many of them have been lost. The length of 13 large creeks flowing through the city is about 73 kilometres.
SCC made a list in 2016, identifying 268 illegal occupiers, most of whom are influential, as well as some government institutions.
In this regard, Faruk Mahmud Chowdhury, the president of Shushaner Jonno Nagorik, Sylhet, said although several projects were taken to rescue creeks and canals, the city dwellers did not get many benefits from it. There are also questions about the implementation of the project.
The city corporation has also not confirmed its transparency regarding these projects. As a result, waterlogging has not been solved. In addition to ensuring the transparency of the project, expert advice is also needed to get long-term benefits, he added.
However, disagreeing with him, SCC Chief Engineer Nur Azizur Rahman said, "We have recovered about 30 kilometres of creeks. As a result, the city is no longer waterlogged as before. In some areas of the city, waterlogging occurs due to heavy rains, but it goes down in a short time."
"In many cases, after we evict the occupiers, the creeks are re-occupied. Apart from this, throwing garbage here and there obstructs water flow too, which requires a concerted effort. In no way is this possible for the city corporation alone," he added.
Professor Dr Zahir Bin Alam at the Department of Environment and Civil Engineering, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, who is involved in formulating the master plan for the development of Sylhet city, said just rescuing the creeks will not save waterlogging because the bottom of the River Surma flowing through the city has been filled. In the monsoon season, the river is full to the brim. So, the river needs to be dredged and the dumping of garbage should be stopped.
However, SCC Mayor Ariful Haque Chowdhury claimed that there is no waterlogging in Sylhet like before. Although it was not possible to rescue all the creeks, most of them have been freed through continuous operations.
"The biggest problem is that the water cannot recede as the bottom of the River Surma was filled. In addition, some areas are lower than the water level. The problem of waterlogging in low lying areas is not being solved this year as the accumulated rainwater has to be discharged into the canal by installing pumps in low areas. This time we are not able to install the pump. I hope I can do this in the dry season," he added.