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[DHAKA] Forecasts of Bangladesh’s current floods were largely ignored by people living in the affected areas, say scientists, exposing gaps in disaster preparedness.   

At least 100 people died and 250,000 were left homeless when flash floods and landslides that followed torrential rains in Bangladesh in the last week of June, according to officials.

Ainun Nishat, vice-chancellor of the BRAC university, said both the meteorological department and the water development board had forecast the floods accurately but their warnings were ignored by many local people.

Sajidul Alam, an official at the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD), said, "Days before the recent disaster in Chittagong, we warned people of possible heavy rainfall and flooding."

"We asked people, especially those who live in the mountainous area, to take safe shelter fearing landslides, since the rains were continuing for three to four days. But they did not take the warnings seriously, resulting in a large number of fatalities," Alam said.

Amirul Hosen, executive director of the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre, Dhaka, told SciDev.Net that currently, the accuracy for 24-hour forecasts is 93 per cent, 88 per cent for two days and 78 per cent for three days.

A low-lying delta that drains major rivers such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Teesta, Bangladesh is one of the world's most flood-vulnerable countries.

The centre is currently working on five-day flood forecasts by including data from India on water  levels in the Brahmaputra and Ganges – rivers that the two countries share.

While Bangladesh has emerged as a leader in disaster management in South Asia, there are still gaps in taking prompt action based on flood forecasts, analysts said.

"We are much better than any in cyclone warning. But in flood prediction, we are lacking," Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, told SciDev.Net.

He said that while the government was making efforts to disseminate flood forecast information through mobile phones, gaps remained in management such as inadequate shelters and people’s varying response to warnings.

Officials at the BMD said while the government has for the last two years been issuing local advisories to people living in mountain areas, anticipating landslides triggered by heavy rains, poor communities have no flood shelters to go to.

Mountain communities normally flee to the plains below to seek shelter. But, in the latest floods, incessant rains had inundated the plains, depriving them of that option.