May 28, 2006

Farmers get ready as Bangladesh sees early monsoon

By Ruma Paul

DHAKA (Reuters) - Heavy rain sweeping across Bangladesh
over the past two days has raised hopes for an early monsoon
that weather experts say will boost agriculture.

"The country is ready to welcome the monsoon about two
weeks before the usual start in the middle of June," said a
meteorologist in Cox's Bazar resort town on Sunday.

The resort on the Bay of Bengal and nearby areas in
southeastern Bangladesh recorded 350 mm (14 inches) of rain
since Friday, he said.

Neighbouring India's annual monsoon rains hit the southern
Kerala coast six days ahead of schedule on Friday, raising
prospects of another year of robust growth for a country where
most of the population relies on agriculture. The
June-September southwest monsoon is the main source of water
for farming, which generates about a fifth of India's gross
domestic product.

Chittagong port and half a dozen other major Bangladesh
towns and vast rural areas also saw downpours, accompanied by
gusting winds, suggesting "the monsoon is at our doors," said
another weather official in Dhaka.

Agriculture officials said farmers would now be able to get
on with planting after this had been delayed for weeks because
of a heatwave and lack of rain.

Officials said the Bay of Bengal was rough and water levels
rose up to four feet along the coast on Sunday. Forecasters say
heavy showers will continue through the week.

While an early monsoon is good for farmers, it could also
bring early flooding. Floods in Bangladesh kill hundreds of
people and make thousands homeless each year.

The government's flood warning center in Dhaka on Sunday
said heavy rains had swelled many rivers, especially in the
country's north and southeastern hill basins, raising fears of
flash floods at a number of places.

"...heavy rains being experienced in the country may have
introduced a flash flood situation in Sylhet, Sunamganj,
Hobiganj and Chittagong districts," the center said in a

The Water and Sewerage Authority in Dhaka said they were
worried that rainfall could inundate areas in the overcrowded
city of 10 million people, where many underground drains were
choked with garbage.

"We are trying to clean a few major drainage systems to try
to give the city a little respite from likely rain-led
flooding," a WASA official said on Sunday.

Two-thirds of the city was under water for over a month
during floods that swept Bangladesh in the middle of 2004,
which killed dozens of people and washed away a huge quantity
of crops.

Production of Bangladesh's main foodstuff, rice, depends
largely on a balanced monsoon that brings enough water but no
flooding. The country grows 26 million tonnes of rice a year.

(Additional reporting by Mohammad Nurul Islam in COX'S