Excess salinity in tidal water has only added to locals’ woes, increasing risks of waterborne diseases
The Meghna River, which has featured in films, poems and folklores, has now turned into a curse for villagers living near it.
In the last 10 years the river has swallowed croplands, houses as well as school buildings, leaving thousands homeless. It has eroded its banks by its strong tide. The onslaught goes on unabated both during the dry season and the monsoon.
Around 170 square km area in Ramgati and Kamalnagar upazilas of Lakshmipur has been devoured in the last 10 years as erosion by the river continues, according to data derived by reviewing and analyzing government documents and interviewing residents of these areas.
Last Monday, Char Balua Government Primary School building in Ramgati upazila collapsed into the riverbed within seconds, a sad portrayal of the helplessness of people in these areas to river erosion.
According to the survivors of the Meghna erosion on the Lakshmipur coast, its severity has been three times more in the last 10 years compared to any time in the past.
Thousands of people had lost their land to Meghna and became homeless during this time.
In addition to the erosion, abnormal tidal water has been inundating localities and inhabited land, adding to the miseries of the residents.
Excess salinity in tidal water has added new problems this year, increasing risks of waterborne diseases.
Construction of embankments
In such a situation, the locals have demanded the construction of permanent and sustainable embankments to protect them from the wrath of Meghna.
The area of Ramgati was 663 sq km according to the 1991 census report and 594 sq km according to a similar report published in 2011, a data which reveals that approximately 69 sq km area in the region was lost due to erosion.
The rate of river erosion in the region has only increased ever since, according to locals.
Local representatives of the affected areas told UNB that at least 15 wards of 4 unions of Kamalnagar upazila have been destroyed in the last five years due to the intensity of the erosion.
Most parts of the embankment which protected the people from Meghna were damaged when cyclone Ayla hit the coastal shores back in 2007.
As baffling as it may sound, these damaged parts were not recovered in all these years despite the Meghna River devouring land after land during this time.
Abdus Sattar Paloyan, convener of the Kamalnagar-Ramgati Bachao Mancha (Save KamalNagar-Ramgati platform) and a lawyer for the Supreme Court, said: “Although it is difficult to correctly state the exact number, our estimation is that around 170 sq km areas of the region were lost due to Meghna erosion.”
He urged the government to immediately compensate the people in these areas who lost their livelihoods and homes.
He also called on the authorities to immediately start the embankment construction project passed by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council on June 1.
“The project might be transferred to the Bangladesh Army for better handling, if necessary,” the activist added.
Kamalnagar-Ramgati constituency MP Major (retd) Abdul Mannan said a project has been taken to build an embankment to prevent river erosion in the two upazilas.
“Hopefully, it will be possible to protect the river bank through it. I am trying to get the construction work started as soon as possible through the army,” he added.
Faruk Ahmed, executive engineer of Lakshmipur Water Development Board said a project worth Tk3,99,96,99,000 has been approved at a meeting of the Ecnec for the construction of a 31km embankment on the Meghna River in the two upazilas.
“The construction will start immediately after the money for the project is released by the authorities concerned,” he added.