Shivering amid starvation and helplessness, Sanjida Akhter, a fifth grade student of Manikganj’s Saiyadnagar Primary School is walking along the bank of Padma. She has lost her home, school and belongings in river erosion. Looking at the raised top of a concrete pillar submerged in the river, she fails to hold her tears back. The pillar evokes the good days she has had in her school, in her sweet village located on the bank of the mighty Padma.
Every year in Bangladesh, thousands of hectares of land crumble into the rivers that wind through this South Asian nation, swallowing homes and pushing families away from their rural villages. This land erosion peaks during the June to October monsoon season, which brings torrential rains and swells the country’s rivers.
Over the last few weeks, erosion of Padma, Jamuna, Teesta and Madhumoti have put the whereabouts of thousands of families living around the areas of Tangail, Sirajganj, Shariatpur, Kushtia, Faridpur and Manikganj in the eye of the storm. The mighty Padma has gobbled up many villages, eroded roads, houses, markets, schools, hospitals and other lands, made many well-off people landless overnight, plunged thousands of villagers into the chasm of displacement and poverty. This year, erosion destroyed the homes of at least 8,000 people in Bangladesh’s northern districts during heavy July floods that swept through the region and displaced at least 300,000 people across the country. The dexterity that has been executed by Bangladesh in disaster preparedness over the last few years is laudable indeed. But the pertaining situation certainly reflects our vulnerability to fight against river erosion.
Reportedly, a total of 4,656 families of four upazilas of Rajshahi district have been affected by flood caused by rush of water in the river Padma. Most of the people who became homeless during the last several days are staying under the open sky, amid starvation and helplessness. Vast section of these erosion-victims will end up being floating families in the city as no concrete actions have been devised yet to rehabilitate them.
The erosion that started two months ago took a sudden destructive turn a couple of weeks ago. Although the level of ferocity of the river calmed down a little during last week, locals apprehended that the river might turn devastating again at any moment as erosion was heading towards densely populated area. Considering the situation, the government and NGOs should take immediate steps to reduce the volume of the effects of riverbank erosion. In this regard, the authorities concerned should immediately construct an embankment along the river to protect the local people from erosion. Also adequate relief and funds should be allocated for the river erosion victims.
We are told that the administration has already distributed relief amongst the sufferers. Meanwhile, locals alleged that the amount of government relief is very inadequate compared to the actual need. The government is working to prevent the prevailing river erosion and help the victims. We hope the government and the authorities concerned will take further steps to prevent the erosion permanently. But for now, immediate steps should be taken to rehabilitate the affected people and provide them with financial support. Besides, we should all stand beside the river erosion victims and work together to rehabilitate them.
Study suggests that Bangladesh is projected to lose around 2,270 hectares of land this year due to riverbank erosion. With the expansion of the eroding width of newer rivers, 5 districts have been identified as being vulnerable to erosion. Hence, preparing for such an eventuality in near future might require greater technological intervention as well as sincere efforts from both the public and private sector.
Experts assert that river erosion turned into the serious condition due to lack of proper dredging or digging. Dwellers of the area appealed to the government to take steps as the Padma erosion was heading towards densely populated area.
It is feared that the erosion and loss would increase if the authority don’t take effective steps in this regard. The rivers of the country require capital dredging. But, there is no sign of such steps. Therefore, immediate actions should be taken to this end. Also immediate steps should be taken to rehabilitate the affected people and provide them with financial support.
Considering the situation, the government and NGOs should take some immediate steps to reduce the volume of the effects of riverbank erosion. In this regard, the authorities concerned should immediately construct an embankment along the river to protect the affected from the erosion. It is sad but true that our country is currently lacking in resources to stand against river erosion. We believe with proper implementation of new technologies, we can save lives, properties and assets and limit the grave consequences of river erosion.
Sayeed Hossain Shuvro is Editorial Assistant, Bangladesh Post