Bhashan Char rose up in the Bay of Bengal around 25 years ago. Over years, the island emerged and submerged in the estuary of the Meghna River and the Bay of Bengal. Erosion is a regular phenomenon in the island.
Boatmen and sailors who have used this waterway for years say several square kilometres of the landmass have been eroded away by the river and the sea.
According to data collected by the Forest Department, at least 5,000-7,000 acres of forest on Bhashan Char have disappeared into the river estuary since the formation of the island. The erosion continues to this day.
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Reports show that the island’s landmass increases by up to 50,000 acres during the low tide. At high tide, only 13,000 acres are visible, of which barely 5,000 acres are habitable.
The Forest Department believes that further research is needed to determine whether more of the island will emerge from the sea in the future, or if the current landmass will gradually erode away.
The department also stated that 16,000 acres of mangrove trees have been planted on Bhashan Char between 2000 and last year.
Asked about how 16,000 acres of the island could be forested when it has only 13,000 acres of land, Forest Officer Md Tohidul Islam said: “Many areas have disappeared into the sea due to erosion, and it still continues.”
During our visit to Bhashan Char, we found that the southern and southeastern regions of the island were suffering from frequent erosion.
The Forest Department data confirmed that as much as half a kilometre of the island was disappearing into the sea every year due to erosion.
In search of more information, we spoke with Alam, 58, a fisherman by trade and a resident of Panchayat village in Hatiya.
Alam used to go fishing in a canal between Jaliyar Char and Dubar Char 10 years ago.
“We could cross the canal on foot during the low tide, and by swimming during the high tide,” he told the Bangla Tribune. “But rampant erosion broke the canal apart in the last 10 years. There is no fish there anymore, and the forest area is also disappearing into the sea.”
During our inspection, we found that the oldest parts of the island were gradually eroding, but new landmass was emerging on the northern and western sides.
Even the local administration are concerned over the stability of this island.
Nalchira Range Beat Officer Md Nahid Hasan recently compiled a report on Bhashan Char following the directive of the higher authorities.
The report states that the island, primarily formed of sand and clay soil, initially emerged as a river island of Meghna. Its high point is at the centre.
Due to the topography of the island, it gets inundated during the high tide, and more landmass emerges during the low tide. Farming and agriculture would be quite difficult in Bhashan Char due to regular contamination of soil by the sea water, as well as the soft, muddy nature of the soil, the report said.
“We are aware that erosion is a continuous phenomenon in Bhashan Char. It will take more time for the island to become more stable,” Hatiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Khandaker Md Rezaul Karim said.
“If the government moves ahead with the plan to rehabilitate the Rohingya in Bhashan Char, it will first implement necessary measures to control erosion. Currently, around 5,000 acres of the landmass is habitable.”
Forest Officer Md Tohidul Islam said: “During my visit to Bhashan Char, I saw that the southeastern side of the island is suffering erosion, but new landmass is also emerging on the western side. It takes around 40-50 years for an island to reach stability.
“When a new island emerges, we conduct an inspection there. We plant trees as soon as grasses start growing there. Trees help the ground accumulate alluvium, and forestation gradually strengthens the soil. That is how an island becomes habitable.”
The Bangla Tribune has learned that Bangladesh Navy officials had showed Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal a presentation on Bhashan Char during his visit to the island on September 28.
The presentation showcased several technological solutions for preventing erosion there.
According to the local administration, Bhashan Char is 8km long and 4km wide. Around 500 acres of land has been proposed for use in the Rohingya rehabilitation programme.
Speaking on the matter, Noakhali Deputy Commissioner Md Mahbub Alam Talukder said: “The erosion can be prevented using modern technology. A land survey is currently underway there. I cannot provide more details on the matter, because I lack the technical expertise.”
The deputy commissioner added that no island was habitable for the people without implementing a few development measures.
To make Bhashan Char habitable, several essential infrastructure such as embankments, roads, cyclone shelters, educational institutions, fresh water sources and police camps must be built there.
“There are plans to begin construction of a 13km embankment around Bhasan Char next month. The whole island will be brought under the protection of the embankment after the Rohingya are relocated there,” Mahbub Alam Talukder said.
The article was first published on Bangla Tribune