About one crore people living in the coastal belt of Chittagong, including 50 lakh in the city area alone, are exposed to cyclone and tidal surges, as the long embankment from Patenga to Sitakunda has been damaged in many places. The same goes for the embankment between Banshkhali and Anwara.
It is allowing high-tide water to sip through.Many heavy industries like the Eastern Refinery Limited, General Electric Manufacturing Company Limited (GEMCO) and important establishments like the Chittagong Shah Amanat International Airport are also vulnerable owing to the poor condition of the embankment.
The need for a coastal embankment arose after a deadly cyclone hit the district on April 29, 1991. It killed more than two lakh people and damaged many assets and establishments. Sources said the cyclone had prompted the government’s decision to construct a coastal embankment from Patenga to Sitakunda and a marine drive. However, even after 22 years, the embankment and marine drive are yet to be completed.
The sources also said that a loan agreement was inked between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) for the much-hyped “Chittagong City Outer Ring Road” on March 24, 2010. The loan agreement had also come into effect from March 26 of the same year. However, the implementing authority of the project is yet to initiate the project.
JICA has already warned the government that it would cancel the loan agreement in case of further delay in the implementation of the project.
The delay in starting work has increased the cost of the project to Tk. 1,751 crore, which is more than double the cost estimated in the original detailed project proposal (DPP). In the original DPP, the total cost of the project was Tk. 856 crore. JICA was to give Tk. 681 core, while the government was supposed to bear Tk. 175 crore of the total expenditure.
The government will have to shoulder the additional cost of the project, as JICA has said it would not increase the loan amount for the project. In the original DPP, Tk. 140 crore was allocated for land acquisition and resettlement cost for coastal road and feeder road of the Outer Ring Road project, but now the land acquisition cost stands at Tk. 576.29 crore.
The sources said it would be possible to start physical work of the project within the tenure of this government, if it releases funds in the current fiscal year,
When contacted, project director Kazi Hasan Bin Shams told The Independent that the finance ministry has made a demand note of Tk. 450 crore for starting the implementation work of the project. However, the Planning Commission has initially allocated only Tk. 150 crore, he added.
“But a primary budget of Tk. 300 crore is needed to start the implementation work, especially land acquisition and resettlement this year,” he said.
“We may get the already allocated amount in August or September. Then we’d go for land acquisition and re-settlement process, which would take at least four months,” he added.
He also said that the government would release the rest of the demanded amount after the approval of the revised DPP.
Kazi Hasan Bin Shams said implementation work of the ring road project should start immediately for the sake of implementing the proposed tunnel beneath the Karnaphuli river, as the ring road would act as the feeder road of the tunnel.
The 14.7 km Chittagong City Outer Ring Road will comprise two five-km-long feeder roads. Three approach roads will act as a strong coastal embankment cum four-lane highway, stretching from the Patenga Sea Beach to the Sagorika Junction. Of the two feeder roads, one will be constructed beside the RAB-7 office at Katgor and another beside the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium at Sagorika. The height of the ring road will be 31-33 feet.
Abdul Barek, ward councillor of the Chittagong City Corporation (CCC), demanded that construction of the coastal embankment should start immediately.
MA Latif, local lawmaker of Patenga, visited the coastal embankment and expressed his dissatisfaction over its condition. “The coastal embankment has been damaged in many places, allowing high-tide water to sip through the embankment every day. Officials of the Water Development Board are doing nothing in this regard,” he said.
He alleged that officials have misappropriated the government’s allocation to renovate the embankment.
Khurshed Alam Sujan, leader of the Chittagong City Awami League said: “People living in the area from Patenga to Sitakunda have been demanding the coastal embankment since 1991. But the embankment and the marine drive road is yet to be constructed. As a result, local residents always live under the dread of natural disasters.”
Mohammed Gias Uddin, leader of the Chittagong North District Awami League, said: “We’re concerned over the damaged coastal embankment. We urge the government to construct the marine drive and the embankment as early as possible.”
Muhammed Shaheen Imran, upazila nirbahi officer of Sitakunda upazila, said: “The government is taking steps to save the coastal embankment from Patenga to Sitakunda by planting trees. Besides, the government will construct the coastal embankment and the marine drive in the area.”
The CCC mayor, Alhaj Monjur Alam Monju, described Chittagong as a disaster-prone area. “The people of Chittagong are living under the constant threat of natural disasters, including cyclone, tsunami and tremor. So, we need more disaster shelters. The government should complete the construction of the marine drive road from Patenga to Sitakunda,” he said.
-With The Independent input