Shamsul Haque lives in the Nandipara area of Khilgaon, Dhaka, on the banks of Jirani canal where waterlogging is one of the main problems in the rainy season.
The area gets inundated with a little rain, leading to immense sufferings for the local population.
However, in the dry season, when the water level is very low, it becomes almost impossible to live near the canal due to the stench of its polluted water.
"The canal is now almost dead. People have occupied a large part of the canal and built houses. There is no attempt to save the canal," said Shamsul Haque.
It is not only Jirani canal, but almost all the canals in Dhaka which are in similar conditions. People living around these canals say their sufferings can only be ameliorated if the authorities evict the illegal settlements and ensure the free flow of water.
To resolve a part of the crisis, the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has initiated a project to develop four out of 11 canals in its territory – Jirani, Shyampur, Manda and Kalunagar – at a cost of Tk945 crore.
Under the project, the DSCC is going to undertake 30 types of development works, including maintaining water flow in the canals, taking measures against dumping of garbage, construction of walkways, greenbelts, pedestrian and vehicular bridges.
Moreover, Tk661.62 crore will come from the GoB and Tk283.55 crore from the DSCC's fund to implement the project, named Canal Restoration, Renovation and Aesthetic Environment Creation Project.
Of the total expenditure, Tk159.02 crore will be spent on the development of the 3-km Kalunagar canal, Tk205.19 crore on the 3.40-km Jirani canal, Tk284.93 crore for the 8.2-km Manda canal and Tk218.46 crore for the 5-km Shyampur canal.
The project is scheduled to get underway on 1 September, with the deadline for completion being 30 December 2024.
DSCC officials said once the development work of the four canals is completed, about five million people in Dhaka will be saved from waterlogging. At the same time, the environment around the canals will also be beautiful.
However, urban planners say it is necessary to demarcate and excavate all the canals of the city to ensure water flow in them rather than develop only four canals.
According to the Dhaka District Administration, the number of canals in Dhaka is 58. However, the local government division says there are currently 39 canals under the two city corporations of the capital.
On 31 January this year, 26 canals in the capital were handed over by Dhaka Wasa to the two city corporations. Dhaka North City Corporation will oversee 15 canals and Dhaka South City Corporation will oversee 11 canals. The remaining 13 canals are under the Ministry of Public Works and the Water Development Board.
After the canals were handed over, the DSCC started removing waste from the Shyampur, Jirani and Manda canals. However, most of the canals have returned to their previous conditions within a few months.
A recent visit to the canal sites has revealed that the width of the Jirani and Manda canals connected to Trimohoni area in Khilgaon varies from place to place. There are piles of rubbish in the narrow places of the canals. Small bridges made of wood, bamboo, iron or concrete have been built in many places around the canals in such a way that there is no opportunity for boats to sail through them during the monsoon.
In Nandipara, water hyacinth and grass have grown on the Jirani canal and turned it into a rotten sewer. The color of the canal water is black and there is a bad odour emanating from it.
The DSCC will implement the project in a 19.6 km area of the four canals. Of the total expenditure, Tk29.36 crore will be spent on 3,300 aesthetic lamps, Tk26.04 crore on 1,550 solar panels, Tk80 crore on sewer filtering system with drainage line, Tk36.56 crore on gardens, Tk57.50 crore on walkways and bicycle lanes.
Besides, Tk172.50 crore will be spent on the slope protection of the canals, Tk45.22 crore on the construction of 12 pedestrian bridges and Tk65.78 crore on nine bridges for vehicular movement.
Expenditure for cleaning the canals has been estimated at Tk42 crore, with a Tk22 crore allocation for land development.
Other works include construction of drainage structures, silt removal, protection of nearby installations during the project, tree planting, safety fences, food court and coffee shop, etc.
According to the DSCC, the objectives of the large-scale project are to ensure the flow of water in the canals in order to improve the environment and create recreational options for people. It also mentions navigation and fish farming in the canals as its objectives.
The Manda canal starts from Sabujbagh and joins the Balu river near Madartek, Dakshingaon. The average width of the 8.20km long canal is 25m.
The Shyampur canal starts from the Shyampur launch ghat of the Buriganga River and connects with the Shitalakshya River. The Kalunagar canal starts from the Buriganga River and joins the Turag river through Kamrangirchar and Hazaribagh.
Meanwhile, the Jirani canal originates from the Buriganga River and joins the Balu River. The actual length of the canal was about 6 km but it has turned out to be only 3.4m long due to unplanned box-culvert construction. The average width of the canal is 20m.
But the canals have now become a ditch due to occupation, pollution and filling. The canals are now under threat as they are filled with garbage.
Md Khairul Baker, superintending engineer (environment, climate and disaster management circle) of DSCC, who is in charge of the project, told The Business Standard, "Water flows to the other canals in the areas under the DSCC from these four canals. That's why we have planned the project centring on them. We will work on other canals in future."
"Many of these canals are illegally occupied in many places. The city corporation is working on the eviction of the illegal establishments. If this project is implemented, the people of Dhaka will get a beautiful environment," he added.
Urban planner and architect Iqbal Habib said, "It is undoubtedly a good project which will improve the conditions of the canals. But it is necessary to demarcate 11 canals under the DSCC. If the boundaries of the canals are demarcated, their banks can be preserved and illegal settlements can be removed. It will be a landmark step."
"If the banks of the canals can be preserved and a walkway can be built, the people will play a role in protecting their canals on their own. Only allocating a huge amount of money will not solve the problem. We need a planned project," he added.