As the monsoon begins, traders in Khatunganj, the country’s largest wholesale hub for essential commodities, are fearing recurrence of the menace of waterlogging and subsequent losses as two projects involving nearly Tk 8,000 crore aimed at solving the problem of inundation in the port city are only halfway through.
According to the Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association, traders incur huge losses during tidal waves and heavy rains as water enters the ground floor of shops and warehouses when the area becomes waterlogged.
Flash floods destroy huge consignments of essential commodities, including onion, garlic, rice, lentil, sugar, and spices, due to the poor maintenance of the Chaktai canal, a major waterbody that helps the water level recede in the area.
In March, a government study found that traders in Khatunganj incurred losses of more than Tk 514 crore in 2020 only for the waterlogging problem.
“Every year, we have to face huge losses. We want an end to the chronic problem,” said Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The government has already taken initiatives but could not implement them within the stipulated time, he said.
“The authorities should emphasise on solving the crisis to save the major commercial hub.”
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council approved two projects in August 2017 to help the city get rid of the crisis.
The canal re-excavation, expansion, renovation and development to ease waterlogging in Chattogram city project involves Tk 5,616 crore and the construction of a road along the Karnaphuli river from Kalurghat bridge to Chaktai canal involves Tk 2,310 crore.
The Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) is implementing the projects.
Sagir Ahmed, general secretary of the Chaktai-Khatunganj Warehouses Association, said the CDA had not been able to complete the construction of sluice-gates and re-excavate the canal although the projects were undertaken four years ago.
The commodity hub houses about 4,000 businesses, and more than 5,000 warehouses have been running businesses for a long time.
They have been suffering from waterlogging and flash floods since 2007.
Most of the businesses have built two to three feet high walls around the entrance of the shops to prevent the water from entering the stores. But during the full moon and new moon, nothing can stop the water from coming in, traders say.
The deadline for the projects ended in June last year. Later, it was extended by another year. But CDA officials say it would not be able to complete the work on time.
Under the projects, 3,187 illegal structures have been evicted from 35 canals, including Chaktai canal. The construction of 54 bridges and culverts has been completed.
The construction of the sluice gates at the mouths of five canals and the regulators and pump houses at the mouths of 12 canals has not finished.
Project Director and CDA Executive Engineer Rajib Das said the physical work had been completed in five of the 12 sluice gates.
The work to set up pump houses and the construction of the rest of the sluice gates had not been completed as equipment could not be imported on time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.
“It will not be possible to open the sluice gates in the current rainy season. We hope that we can finish the work by December this year,” Das said.
The study, carried out under the National Resilience Programme of the Planning Commission, said the waterlogging also brought financial losses to the business enterprises regarding damages to infrastructure and properties, loss of capital assets, and the cost of repairing, renovation and relocation.
It suggested regular dredging of the Karnaphuli river and Chaktai canal and ensuring responsible waste management practices by the traders.