North-Eastern Flash Floods of Bangladesh

Written By: Anisur Rahman Kion and Asif Khan Ullash

The assemblage of three indomitable rivers—the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna, has amassed the largest delta in the world, Bangladesh, which accommodates 700 (yes, you read that right!) small and humongous rivers, among which 57 are transboundary. In a way, it’s a blessing as Bangladesh holds the largest reserve of freshwater. However, this grace turns into a curse when the rivers of Bangladesh overflow during the monsoon season due to excess water flow from the Hindu Kush Himalayan basin. 

Because of Bangladesh’s unique geological position, we are unable to completely expunge floods or other natural disasters; instead, we can only curtail their severity by undertaking necessary steps at the appropriate time. Residents of Bangladesh have become accustomed to dealing with the yearly floods over time, and the government has also implemented the necessary policies to lessen the harm caused by the floods. Since the devastating floods of 1988 and 1998, we have made great strides in developing accurate forecasting methods, well-trained first responders, and adequate shelters, making recent floods less catastrophic than in the past. 

On the other hand, the key component of our flood response strategy is “time,” which flash floods don’t provide. With enough time, residents can be evacuated and the necessary precautions can be taken to lessen damage. Our flood-related policies were primarily created with the south-western region of Bangladesh, or the coastal areas, in mind. That is where the majority of the flood shelters are. Flash floods brought on by heavy rain in our north-eastern region often catch us off guard.

That is exactly what happened in the middle of the year 2022, when ten districts in our nation’s northeast were hit by the heaviest rainfall in 122 years, flooding more than 60% of Sylhet and 80% of Sunamganj, affecting over four million people. During a span of only 3–4 days, continuous rainfall in the northeastern part of India, especially in Cherrapunji, caused the overflow of the rivers Shurma and Kushiyara in Sylhet; subsequently, the water level rose more than 100 cm above the danger level within a week. Meanwhile, due to the rising water level, all sorts of transportation were immobile, electricity supply was hampered, hospitals were shut down, and various rumors of plunderage were flying around. It was total anarchy.

The administration failed to take prompt action to contain the damage and timely recognize the quandary. More than 2 lakh people were already drowning by the time the central government intervened, sent the military to rescue the victims, and ordered the local government to launch the relief effort. The floods had impacted over 7 million people by the end of the month and had claimed 113 lives. More than 2 crore taka worth of livestock and poultry were washed away, and 18,940 hectares of cropland, the majority of which was mature Boro paddy and newly planted Aman paddy seedlings, suffered severe damage, resulting in a financial loss of 140 crore Taka. 3,388 kilometers of road, worth about Tk 357.24 crore Taka, were destroyed. A large portion of Bangladesh’s rice is grown in the flat lowlands of the northeastern part of the country, and the flood washed away ready-to-harvest crops, affecting the country’s total yield. Also, with the country’s second biggest religious occasion, “Eid-ul-Azha”, knocking at the door, farmers were rearing cattle throughout the year to sell in the Eid market, but most of the cattle were washed away or drowned, and those that did not, starved to death; which has had an impact on Bangladesh’s meat market as a whole.

The floods have affected large groups of people, causing them to lose their homes and possessions. The government and various organizations have set up shelters for these affected people, where they can stay safe and dry. The shelters were overcrowded and lacked basic amenities, but they were a refuge for many who would otherwise have had nowhere to go. They were providing people with food, water and other essential supplies. They are also providing people with a place to sleep and rest, which is crucial after the trauma of losing everything in the floods.

Table 1 – Severity of flood

District Affected Area Affected Upazila Affected




Sylhet 80 Percent  13 4,84,383 More than 3 Million
Sunamganj 90 Percent 11 55,660 29,99,433
Netrakona 617 Sq km 6 15000 N/A
Habiganj 70 percent 7 24,230 83,490
Moulvibazar 57 percent 4 58,595 2,62,736

Table 2 – The number of shelters and accommodation

District No. of Shelter People
Sylhet 614 2,52,878
Sunamganj 250 53,100
Habiganj 350 29,345

Table 3 – Humanitarian Aid

District Food Packet Dry Food Cash Money
Sylhet 1612 20,218 2.57 Crore
Sunamganj 1356 23,000 2.45 Crore
Habiganj 800 4,000 40.27 Lac
Moulvibazar 805 1,700 45.55 Lac

The shelters have been a lifeline for the people of the region who have been affected by the floods. The government and various organizations have done a great job in setting up these shelters, and they are making a difference to the lives of those affected by the floods. The efforts undertaken by student groups from various  educational institutions and the stepping up of influential individuals played a great role in minimizing the sufferings of those affected by the flood. The government has committed to rebuilding homes and providing financial assistance to those who have lost everything, but the process will be long and difficult. In the meantime, the people of North-Eastern region will continue to rely on the kindness of strangers and the support of the government to get through this difficult time.

The medical system is one of the many systems that are destroyed during a flood. The flood affected people in North-Eastern area of Bangladesh who were at a health hazard. Flooding also damages or destroys medical facilities and equipment, making it difficult for people to access the care they need.

The main healthcare center of the region, MAG Osmani Medical, sustained damage.

Table 4 – Number of operational hospitals

District Union sub-center Community clinic
Sylhet 31 out of 65 414 out of 926

One of the most immediate health hazards posed by floods is the risk of drowning. Floodwaters can rise quickly and without warning, making it very easy for people to become trapped and drown. Even if people are able to get to safety, they may be at risk of drowning if they try to cross flood waters that are too deep. 

Another serious health hazard posed by floods is the risk of waterborne diseases. Floodwaters can contaminate drinking water supplies, making it very easy for people to contract waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Floodwaters can also contaminate food supplies, making it easy for people to contract foodborne diseases such as salmonella.

The risk of injury is also high in flood-affected areas. People can be injured by falling into debris, drowning, or being caught in the middle of a flash flood. The risk of injury is even higher for children, who are more likely to be playing in floodwaters and may not be able to swim to safety. The mental health impact of floods can also be significant. People who have been affected by floods can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. The stress of losing everything in a flood also leads to sustained mental health problems. 

The health hazards posed by floods are numerous and can have a devastating impact on the lives of those affected. It is important for people in flood-prone areas to be aware of the risks and to take steps to protect themselves and their families.

The administration was unable to address the situation in a timely manner, to start with. In those desperate circumstances, immediate relief and rehabilitation efforts are absolutely necessary. It was also critical that the various volunteer organizations and the central and local governments work together. For the Sylhet and Sunamganj districts, the government had allotted more than TK 3.5 crores to be distributed as humanitarian aid, along with 1,720 metric tonnes of rice and 58,000 packets of other food items; however, this amount was woefully inadequate for the needs of the 7 million affected people. Furthermore, no monitoring cell was set up to keep an eye on the situation, making it impossible to carry out organized and systematic relief efforts. People starved for days; shelters were overcrowded; one person died while attempting to collect relief delivered by helicopter; individuals and organizations distributed aid as they saw fit; false rumors circulated; some areas receive more aid than they required; other areas received none at all. There was complete chaos, and relief efforts lacked coherence! It was the epitome of how authorities shouldn’t respond to a crisis.

In the Sylhet region, more than 5000 primary and secondary schools were shut down as a result of the flood; some of them served as shelters for those affected by the flood, books and papers were washed away, leaving more than 4 lakh students uncertain of their futures. If students affected by the floods are not provided educational materials, such as books, education experts worry that the dropout rate may rise. Due to the inundation, the secondary school certificate examination that was scheduled to take place nationwide on June 19th has been postponed. Not to mention that COVID had already had a significant impact on these students, the Higher Secondary School Certificate examination—which was scheduled to take place in August—was also postponed. They were unable to attend physical classes due to COVID, and the majority of them were unable to take online classes due to a variety of issues. As a result, they were unable to receive the high-quality education they were promised, and consequently, the course material was trimmed. The students already had a lot going against them, and then the flood set their lives back several months. It is like COVID all over again. In addition to the 4 lakh students in Sylhet, more than 22 lakh SSC exam takers and nearly 14 lakh HSC exam takers nationwide were also impacted by the flooding. This is only their educational loss, leaving aside the tyrannical mental trauma they had to experience as a result of COVID and the flood. The authorities should develop a long-term strategy to address the adverse effect that the pandemic and the flood have had on students.

Hopefully, authorities will draw lessons from this tragic event and develop a more functional and efficient future action plan for this type of national crisis.

Featured Image Courtesy: TRT World


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