Bangladesh needs to be serious about land reclamation from the sea
REGULARLY received satellite imageries and other tangible supporting evidences suggest that Bangladesh is about to receive the gift of a huge land mass from its adjoining sea. The size of this land mass, eventually, could be as big as the present size of Bangladesh or even bigger. But it will depend considerably on what the Bangladeshis themselves do — like the people of Holland did — to reclaim land from the sea to be joined to the mainland.
Unfortunately, non inclusion of such a project in the country’s annual development programmes (ADPs) means that the government is paying no attention to the issue. No allocations have been made over the years to build dams or other structures needed to accelerate the process of accretion of coastal land. This attitude, undoubtedly, reflects a serious neglect of the vital national interest. Successive governments should have done all in their powers to accelerate the land reclamation process which holds out so much promise for this land hungry country. They should have been proactive in mobilising foreign assistance to realise the objective.
Already, a substantial land mass has surfaced off the shore of Bangladesh on some of these completely surfaced land masses human habitations are growing while others emerge during the ebbing of the tide and go under water during the tides. The latter types of land formations could be elevated to be permanently joined to the mainland by engineering to step up the land accretion process. Indeed, much of present day Bangladesh including the districts of Faridpur, Barisal, Noakhali, Patuakhali, etc., were formed, over time in this manner.
Land masses have already emerged from the sea and more would rise in the future. But the natural process being slow and it can be accelerated by engineering, which is neither prohibitive in cost terms nor complex, in technology terms. For Bangladesh, it would require establishment of structures like cross dams to speed up the silt deposition pace in accreted or nearly accreted areas.
Bangladesh is likely to get a positive response for funds as well as technical support from the international community if it can show that it is really keen to reclaim land from the sea for the overpopulated country. But we have to put the endeavour under a systematic policy framework. Holland is one country with unmatched expertise and experience in obtaining land out of the sea. It was in a situation, much worse than Bangladesh. Holland was below the sea level for which high tides and storms in the sea used to completely inundate it. The Dutch engineering solved these problems. They have also permanently reclaimed vast stretches of land from the sea to keep them dry within secure barriers or sea walls.
We may not have to embark on projects on the same scale as the Netherlands did because of Bangladesh’s relatively better elevation. But, Bangladesh can definitely use its huge reservoir of manpower to build simpler projects to get similar or even better results. To be able achieve the goal engage in a time-bound and result oriented framework Bangladesh should engage Holland for technical and other support. It can also appeal to the international community for the funds needed for the project.
The US and other developed countries, the main contributors to global warming which could affect Bangladesh, should help it out in projects designed to secure its coasts and population. Even if external aid is not forthcoming, the government can proceed with dams and other structures designed to reclaim land from the sea on a sustainable basis. Bangladesh can take up such projects for execution by mobilising its own resources and expertise. Reclaimed land mass could be used for human resettlement to ease population pressure on the main land as well as for productive purposes. Coastal areas — specially the offshore islands — have great potential for tourism. Tourist resorts in the coastal islands — like in the Maldives — can attract tourists, foreign as well as local. The coastal areas are exclusively suitable for shrimp cultivation for export.