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Sylhet passes wettest June in five decades

With five days still to go in the first monsoon month—June—the north-eastern district of Sylhet already recorded an amount of rainfall that was never seen in the month since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971.

All 13 upazilas in Sylhet is more or less affected by the ongoing flood that started about 10 days ago, ruining the joy of Eid for thousands of inhabitants, washing away people, cattle, houses, trees and other infrastructure.

Nearly 7.80 lakh people remained stranded in Sylhet district alone, while over 12,000 stayed in flood shelters until Wednesday, according to the official estimate, due to ceaseless flow of water from the upstream India and inside Bangladesh resulting from incessant rainfall.

There was hardly any day in the month that Sylhet did not receive any rain and the ongoing flood is the second wave of flash flood this month. Even the Sylhet city was drowned at least thrice.

‘Rainfall this month set a new historic record in Sylhet,’ said Sarder Udoy Raihan, executive engineer of the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre.

The FFWC recorded 1,740 millimetres of rainfall until 9:00am on Wednesday this month, which surpassed the earlier historic June rainfall record of 1,737mm in 2022.

The last year Sylhet saw so much rain was the year the north-eastern bordering area experienced a historic flood, requiring troops to be called out to help the entire population of five million (50 lakh) in Sylhet and Sunamganj districts.

The divisional commissioner’s office in Sylhet said that nearly 19 lakh people were stranded in floodwater in Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj and Sunamganj districts until Wednesday, reported New Age correspondent in Sylhet.

Sylhet is located on the Meghna basin, one of the three river basins comprising the world largest delta Bangladesh. The Meghna River system rises in the hills of Shillong and Meghalaya of India and its main source is the Barak River, which bifurcates into Surma and Kushiyara upon entering Bangladesh at Amalshid in Sylhet.

The FFWC gauges rainfall at 27 points in the Meghna river system inside Bangladesh. Of the points, 18 recorded rainfalls above their normal average for the month of June. The normal average rainfall was calculated with precipitation data over 30 years starting in 1980.

Zakiganj, one of the worst flood affected areas, received 996mm of rainfall until Wednesday against the monthly average rainfall of 633mm.

The famous tourist destination Jaflong received 1,857mm rainfall over the same time against the month’s average normal rainfall of 514mm. Jaflong saw scores of its villages go under water more than once this month.

Kamalganj recorded 824mm rainfall until Wednesday against the month’s normal rainfall of 495.5mm, while Moheshkhola recorded 1013mm rainfall against the average normal rainfall of 457.3mm.

Continued rainfall leaves land surface gradually saturated and water bodies filled leaving little or no room in them to hold future runoff. The monsoon season lasts four months until September.

The Meghna River system is the smallest among the three river systems constituting Bangladesh. The Meghna catchment area becoming saturated so early in the monsoon could mean large-scale flooding in the area in the coming days this season, said forecasters.

The Meghna River system also drains world’s wettest place Cherrapunji with an annual rainfall of 10,000mm, 80 per cent of it occurring over monsoon.

The Bangladesh Meteorological Department also records rainfall at its own stations across Bangladesh.

Until June 25, the BMD said that Sylhet recorded 1,999mm of rainfall, almost three times the normal average rainfall of 818mm for the month. The highest rainfall of 257mm in a day in the month was recorded on June 8.

‘For two weeks starting on June 8, Sylhet saw rain every day,’ said meteorologist AKM Nazmul Hoque.

A fresh wet spell is setting over Sylhet and its adjoining upstream after a brief gap with forecasts of its continuing the rest of the month when the rainfall is likely to become more intense.

On Wednesday, in the 24 hours ending 6:00pm, the highest 99mm rainfall was recorded at Panchargh.

Having said that Sylhet is the country’s wettest place, meteorologist Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik recommended digging fresh water bodies in abandoned land in the region for retaining runoff besides improving rivers’ navigability.

‘Through proper planning we can use these vast water reservoirs during dry season for irrigation and other purposes,’ he said.

A meeting, held on June 2 at the Sylhet divisional commissioner’s office, discussed the inadequacy of basic logistics such as life jackets and boats to conduct emergency rescue during deluges becoming more frequent and intense due to what expert said climate change impacts.

The first wave of flash floods this monsoon affected a million people, including 44,000 farmers, in Sylhet, while washing away 8,820 fisheries, according to official estimates.

One of the reasons behind floods lingering is the loss of river navigability, said BWDB officials at the meeting.

The rivers could not be dredged properly as machines failed to work due to strewn polythene on the riverbeds, they said.

The Ganges and Brahmaputra basins, however, witnessed a rather dry June.