The reported move to allow housing projects in the capital city's wetlands under the draft detailed area plan (DAP) comes as a shock to all concerned about the city's environmental safety. Dhaka city has already been ranked the second least liveable city among 140 conurbations in the world according to the Global Livability Survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Its environmental risks and challenges are partly responsible for this. As such, it is not understandable at all how a review committee of the ministry of works, headed by the State Minister himself, could find 150 sites in wetlands as suitable for different housing projects. Wetlands and open spaces function as the lung of a city. The reported decision to compromise on the DAP also goes against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's directive given last Sunday to strictly follow building code and construct disaster-resilient buildings in Dhaka and other cities of the country. Houses built in wetlands run the risk of collapsing like the infamous Rana Plaza.
Notwithstanding this, the real estate companies have reportedly been allowed to go for earth-filling in reserved wetlands and flood-flow zones. This is a clear violation of the existing Wetland Conservation Act 2000. Construction of buildings or other structures also runs counter to the stated intents and purposes of the DAP. The developers have already grabbed 83 per cent of the designated wetlands and flood flow zones under the proposed DAP covering 1,528 square kilometres. It outlines every structure, lake, canal, wetland, retention pond, road, open space and all topographical features, and delineates an authorised land use plan. But any flagrant violation of its earlier spelt-out provisions will create serious misgivings about the decision. The move to allow housing projects in wetlands will have serious consequences for the city.
The rate of expansion of Dhaka, in terms of the number of its dwellers or residents, has far outstripped the pace of infrastructure development over the past four decades or so. Efforts to accommodate the needs of the city's bulging population have been taking a rising toll on the environment. About 52 per cent of the lowlands and 33 per cent of the water bodies - rivers, lakes, etc. - around Dhaka have already been lost to urbanisation. Weak enforcement of government regulations has made illegal encroachment upon wetlands a very common practice. The depletion of Dhaka's wetlands is also having an adverse effect on the local climate. A recent study has indicated that the maximum and minimum temperatures in Dhaka city have steadily increased, bringing hotter summers and cooler winters.
Today Dhaka ranks third in the list of cities most vulnerable to flooding due to climate change. The rainy season did earlier start in mid-June and continued for two months, but this is no longer the case. The change makes Dhaka's drainage system vital to its existence, and the wetlands are its essential part. As the recent trends have borne out, the rainy seasons in Dhaka are getting shorter but more intense. The wetlands serve as flood basins for the city; these help the rainwater to run off. With the depletion of the wetlands, the city's drainage systems will no longer be able to function properly, resulting in frequent water-logging.