Delta Plan: Important for sustainability or business as usual?

M Anwar Hossen
Published : 18:40, Nov 01, 2018 | Updated : 19:08, Feb 06, 2019

M Anwar HossenBangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) 2100 is a ground breaking policy document on water and environmental resource development for the next 100 years in Bangladesh. Based on the active role of the different ministries like Ministry of Environment and Forest, Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, the General Economic Division of Bangladesh Government did a great job preparing the BDP that aims to ensure food security, economic growth, and environmental sustainability by reducing concerns over climate change effects and natural disasters. For this purpose, the BDP did baseline surveys, consulted stakeholders, and incorporated expert opinions. The BDP sets 2030 as the target year to achieve food security and help to make Bangladesh an upper middle income country in coordination with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For this purpose, the BDP emphasises achieving water security, water usage efficiency, integrated river and estuary management, wetland and ecosystem conservation and usage, and in-country and trans-border water management. Based on historical development of water resource management, the plan seeks to address socio-economic needs of different groups of people.
However, the document did not project a broader understanding of community sustainability in the context of natural disasters, climate change mitigation and adaptation, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss. It focuses on market driven capital accumulation based on commoditisation of local natural resources like river water, wild fish, wetlands, and lakes which are not helpful for local community livelihoods. Haor and beels (swamps) are helpful for ecological services like habitat for fish spawning, birds, and vegetation, and these resources are a major base for fishing and agricultural opportunities. Local people depend on these resources for employment opportunity, food security, and related livelihood services. However, the BDP fails to recognise these services of local people who constitute more than 70 percent of the people in Bangladesh. Although some previous programmes, like Flood Control, Drainage and Irrigation (FCDI) and Flood Action Plan (FAP) have left major negative effects on these services, the BDP allows them for working out the future direction of water resource management. Side by side, it emphasises some major negative effects of the programs, and focuses on socio-economic indicators like population, household size, literacy, education, income and employment.
BDP mainly focuses on economic aspects of these indicators and puts less emphasis on social aspects like class position, culture, norms, values, and customs. Without recognising these social aspects, BDP will be incomplete in understanding the bonds between local community and nature. For example, employment dependencies on ecological services are major factors for community sustainability. An ignorance of this social aspect reduces the importance of local community voices related to common property and community resource management. Under the circumstances, it is very relevant to raise a question, BDP for whom: community sustainability versus elite interests? The current standpoint of BDP indicates new reasons for causing destruction and social inequality in Bangladesh.
Because of environmental degradations, producers of crops encounter increasing food quality and safety problems. Chemical fertilisers and pesticides affect our food quality. The commercial exploitation of limited natural resources like fish, livestock increases these concerns. Drinking water and health concerns originate from groundwater extraction, using deep and shallow tube wells. This extraction forces the water table downwards leads to arsenic contamination on human and animal health. Due to these types of environmental problems, new types of health concerns like Dengue and Chickungunya have become major challenges for local community livelihoods. BDP needs to find out the solutions for these challenges; for this purpose, it is important to protect the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem. The Constitution of Bangladesh also spells out the need to protect the environment, biodiversity, wetland, forests, and wild life.
As part of this goal, BDP identified some major concerns over environmental degradations like human habitations, fuel wood collection, and pollution. I believe the plan needs to dig deeper to understand broader scenarios: e.g., pollution from agricultural and industrial wastage, the reduction of wetlands, disruption of river channels, and the increase of chars (river islands).
Trans-boundary water management is supposed to be a major component of BDP for addressing many of these problems as 94 percent of water in Bangladesh comes from the upstream Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin (GBB) in India. The local ecosystem and ecological resources depend on this basin flow. BDP emphasises on the GBB management in maintaining ecosystem in the context of forests, wetland, and coastal and marine biodiversity. However, the plan fails to develop any viable water management approach in addressing local ecological and disaster concerns. BDP describes joint initiatives and Joint Working Group but gives no indication whether it will be bilateral or multilateral. The bilateral approach will not be helpful for ecosystem protection as the basin is shared by more than two countries. Without addressing this issue, it will be very difficult to achieve the objectives of BDP.
The plan emphasises an integrated and holistic governance approach in recovering from natural disasters and climate change effects as flood, drought, river bank erosion, sea level rise, salinity intrusion, cyclone, and storm surge are major determining factors for local community sustainability. For this purpose, BDP emphasizes the need for community participation but it did not have proper direction on incorporating local community voices. The plan notes a knowledge gap about climate scenarios like flood and drought, and acknowledges the limitations of sustainable land use and spatial planning, land availability, infrastructure, and skills. However, it fails to recognize importance of local knowledge in understanding community-nature bond, cultural aspects, and their local mechanisms to deal with climate change effects and natural disasters. Again, the plan does not explain how to train local people in accepting scientific knowledge?
BDP did not provide any operational direction related to governance of climate change effects and natural disasters. Who needs what types of preparation like community, local government, and administration, and decision making authority are important aspects of this governance approach. The lack of proper institutions and coordination can cause further challenges for achieving the BDP objective of local community sustainability.
The writer is a Sociology professor at the University of Dhaka. He can be reached at