Underpinning flood preparedness in Bangladesh

11 May 2022
Paddy fields in Netrokona District. Bangladesh’s north-eastern districts account for a sixth of the country’s total boro rice (winter rice) production (Photo: ICIMOD/Manish Shrestha)

Bangladesh’s Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC), under the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), shoulders a gargantuan task. In April and May each year, as flash floods inundate and wash away crops just before the harvesting period in Bangladesh’s north-eastern districts – Habiganj, Moulvibazar, Netrokona, Sunamganj, and Sylhet – the FFWC coordinates flood disaster mitigation and management efforts in close consultation with other line government ministries and agencies. Timely and accurate flood forecasts are crucial for food security in this region, as these north-eastern districts produce a sixth of Bangladesh’s total boro rice (winter rice) production. However, the management and forecast of floods is complex as these recurring flash floods originate in rivers in India. Given the transboundary nature and complexity of this issue, we have been helping the FFWC/BWDB build forecasting capabilities through the enhanced use of Earth observation and geospatial information technology.

Battling floods every year

Bangladesh’s northeastern region is home to rivers and wetlands that are prone to flooding every monsoon season. (Photo: ICIMOD/Utsav Maden)

The sudden nature of flash floods gives people in the area very little time to evacuate and protect their fields. Moreover, with limited human and technical resources, the FFWC faces a huge challenge in managing such floods every year.

The centre operates 109 water level stations in 68 rivers across the country; 39 of these stations lie in the north-eastern region. Using the Bangladesh Meteorological Department’s rainfall forecasts and their in-house hydrological model, the centre generates five-day flood forecasts for 25 water level stations in flash flood-prone areas. However, most of the floods originate in upstream rivers outside of Bangladesh’s national borders, for which data is unavailable, making the FFWC’s flood forecasting tasks even more challenging. The centre also faces hurdles in disseminating flood forecasts to vulnerable and flood-afflicted communities.

Supporting FFWC in combating floods

Birendra Bajracharya, Chief of Party–SERVIR-HKH, ICIMOD provides an overview of SERVIR-HKH tools customised for Bangladesh at the stakeholder consultation workshop in Sunamganj, Bangladesh on 31 March 2022. Sunamganj’s Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate, Md. Jahangir Hossain, chaired the meeting and BWDB’s Chief Engineer – Hydrology, Md. Mizapur Rahman, served as the Chief Guest with local stakeholders in attendance. ICIMOD supported the FFWC in organizing stakeholder consultation workshops on flash flood and early warning systems in flood prone districts in Bangladesh’s north-eastern region. (Photo: ICIMOD/Utsav Maden)

We have been collaborating with the BWDB/FFWC since 2017 to build their capacity in the use of Earth observation and geospatial information technology for weather and water-induced disasters like floods and flash floods. We have co-developed many open-source tools and services with the FFWC to enhance its flood forecasting capabilities. Working closely with forecasters at the FFWC, we have customised our Streamflow Prediction Tool for Bangladesh to provide 10-day flood forecasts for major river systems in Bangladesh. The FFWC feeds these forecasts into their in-house flood forecasting model to provide more reliable forecasts and warnings to vulnerable communities across Bangladesh. Furthermore, by routing High-Impact Weather Assessment Toolkit (HIWAT) runoff predictions through the RAPID model, our HIWAT Streamflow Prediction Tool provides 54-hour flash flood forecasts for minor river segments in Bangladesh.

We also supported the development of a mobile application – BWDB Flood App – that provides flood inundation information to BWDB field staff and at-risk communities in Bangladesh. Ahead of the monsoon season, we support the FFWC in organizing stakeholder workshops in Bangladesh’s flood-prone districts to introduce the flood forecasting tools and the mobile application to relevant stakeholders, including local government agencies and media persons.

Putting cutting-edge Earth sciences and Earth observation into use

Our HIWAT Streamflow Prediction Tool – Bangladesh provides 54-hour flash flood forecasts for minor river segments in Bangladesh.

Our SERVIR-HKH team conducted several needs assessment and training workshops with the FFWC, universities, and national and international agencies working on flood and disaster management in Bangladesh. We co-developed these services and tools in response to user needs expressed at these events and are continuously updating and customising these services to encompass new technologies, offer new functionalities, and engage new users.

By working closely with NASA and leading research universities in the world through the SERVIR network, we bring cutting-edge science and technology to our region. Our service on monitoring and forecasting flood inundation in South Asia is one such example. The service uses weather-independent data from spaceborne radar remote sensing sensors to map surface water extent every time a satellite collects imagery over an area of interest. The service creates flood-relevant data products in a cloud computing environment and quickly delivers flood inundation information within hours of satellite data acquisition. This feature will substantially boost flood remediation and flood rehabilitation efforts in the region.

Working with partners like the FFWC, we are able to proliferate and sustain the use of Earth observation data and geospatial information technology to save lives and livelihoods in Bangladesh.

Related links

HIWAT Streamflow Prediction Tool – Bangladesh

Streamflow Prediction Tool for Bangladesh

High-Impact Weather Assessment Toolkit (HIWAT)

Monitoring and forecasting flood inundation

BWDB Flood App


Manish Shrestha