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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 July, 2004, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Why Bangladesh floods are so bad
By Tracey Logan
BBC Science Unit

There seems to be no end in sight to the misery of around 30 million Bangladeshis affected by flooding.

With 40% of the capital, Dhaka, underwater and warnings from aid agencies about water-borne diseases once the water finally recedes, questions have been asked as to why the floods this year have been so damaging.

Part of the answer is due to the fact that Bangladesh receives enormous amounts of water from four major rivers.

The Padma - more widely known as the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Jamuna and the Meghna.

Himalayan snows

All are filled up from melting snow in the Himalayas.

While the monsoon season always brings flooding in Bangladesh, devastation on the current scale is less frequent.

Bangladeshi flood victim in Dhaka

Recently it has been happening on a 10-year cycle. The last major floods were in 1998 and 1988.

But this year the floods have arrived three years early.

Deforestation may be partly to blame, causing soil erosion which reduces the ability of the land to absorb water.

Irrigation for farming is a factor, because this causes river channels to silt up, reducing their capacity to hold flood waters.

According to some experts, irrigation interferes with river drainage into the sea.

Climate experts also believe global warming is partly to blame, by increasing monsoon rainfall and speeding up the melting of Himalayan snows.

'Quicker rehabilitation'

But Barbu Alam, a researcher at the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, says that the country's poverty also hampers its ability to cope with floods.

He argues that its weak economy, and low levels of technology and infrastructure combine to make matters worse.

Rickshaws in Dhaka
A flood warning system would benefit many, observers say

"The damage [in places like Bangladesh will] be higher due to the climate change," he told the BBC.

Barbu Alam believes that with more money, Bangladesh could install early-warning systems that alert people to flooding four or five days in advance, instead of the current four or five hours.

During floods lives could be saved

by providing clean water more quickly, along with food, shelter and health care.

And after the deluge, more funds would mean quicker rehabilitation for those affected.

But more strategic planning ahead of time and better information sharing with Bangladesh's neighbours is also required, he says, so that the country does not continue to be caught unawares.

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