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The waterways of Tangail: Failures to learn from flood-control efforts in the Brahmaputra Basin of Bangladesh

Crelis F. Rammelt
Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, Faculty of Science, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; c.f.rammelt@uva.nl

Zahed Md. Masud
AITAM Welfare Organisation, Janata Co-operative Housing Society, Dhaka, Bangladesh; masud@agni.com

Arvid Masud
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, The State University of New York, Buffalo, United States; arvidmasud@yahoo.com

ABSTRACT: Traditional non-structural approaches to water management and flood protection in Bengal disappeared almost entirely under colonial and national water planning. The 1950s saw the rise of permanent and centrally regulated infrastructures for flood control, drainage and irrigation (FCD/I). A nationwide Flood Action Plan (FAP) in the 1990s reinforced this structural approach and included as one of its flagships of the FAP-20 component in the Tangail District. While essentially remaining a form of FCD/I, FAP-20 attempted to pay attention to social and ecological concerns. During its implementation (1991-2000), however, FAP-20 became highly controversial on both accounts. Eventually, it was phased out and not replicated elsewhere. Revisiting this particular project is as relevant as ever for several reasons. First, the article shows that its negative impacts are felt long after the project ended. To better understand these impacts, the present article provides a historical and contextual perspective on water governance in Bangladesh. Second, there seems to have been little learning from the FAP-20 experience. The project was not adequately evaluated, and lessons are therefore not assimilated by the design of subsequent water-sector projects (e.g. the Blue Gold plan). The article argues that a thorough evaluation is needed and can provide valuable insights for the development of more adaptive and inclusive approaches to water management.

KEYWORDS: Flood control, evaluation, Flood Action Plan, Blue Gold, Tangail, Bangladesh