'If this problem is not addressed permanently, we will suffer huge losses,' say tourist boat operators
A journey by boat on the country’s largest Kaptai Lake is no longer fun.
Boats carrying tourists on a joy ride get stuck up in the middle of the lake, surrounded by hills. Locals commuting by boats complain of wasting productive hours as the journey gets terribly slow.
For all their sufferings they blame an unusual culprit: water hyacinths.
The ambience of the man-made lake is under threat as it has been covered with prolific weeds.
The unabated growth of the invasive aquatic plants is not only hampering the operation of water transports (such as launches, speed boats and engine boats) but also threatening fish and marine resources and polluting its water.
According to experts and locals, the water of Kaptai Lake has been severely polluted with water hyacinths. Local residents are getting infected with various diseases by using the water of the lake, they said.
Recently, a large swathe of the lake was seen was clogged by water hyacinths.
Seen from a distance, it looks like a playground full of small green grass. But no, it's not a playground, it's water hyacinth, he found.
The communication with seven of the 10 upazilas of the district is done mainly by this lake. Kaptai Lake with an area of 730 sq km surrounds the district like a net.
Life in Rangamati city is also being disrupted due to the water hyacinth accumulated in the lake. Snakes and mosquitoes have also settled here. The menace of insects has also increased.
Especially, the place where water hyacinth spread the most is the Subalang Channel. Surrounded by hills, one has to visit the beautiful Subalang waterfall after crossing this place which is a must-see destination for tourists visiting Rangamati.
According to the locals, every year during the monsoon, water hyacinths grow because of the onrush of water from the hills along the border and create garbage in the lake.
These water hyacinths also gather in the town’s lakeshore market places when the water level of Kaptai Lake rises. As a result, farmers from far and wide suffer a lot to sell their products.
A large number of small and big engine-driven boats from Rangamati Sadar to Kaptai Upazila Jetighat, Bilaichhari, Jurachhari, Langdu, Borokol, Baghaichhari, Farua, Horinchhara and other places every day. Besides, cargo boats ply on this route during the weekly market day.
Moreover, a large number of tourists cross this route to visit Rangalamati's Subalang Waterfall and Bilaichhari Upazila's various springs during this season.
For instance, on September 10, police rescued seven tourists as they got stuck in an engine boat in the Kaptai Lake after they had made a distress call to the national emergency service number 999. The boat got stuck in a swarm of water hyacinths near Balukhali and the propeller of the boat’s engine broke as the boatman repeatedly tried to restart it.
Boatman Monoranjan Chakma said these water hyacinths will remain stuck in the lake until winter.
“So, we cannot operate the boats at normal speed. Normally it takes 1 hour 20 minutes to an hour and a half to go by engine boat from Rangamati Sadar and Kaptai Jetty to Bilaichhari. But now, it takes 2 hours to two and a half hours due to this water garbage. This is a waste of time besides causing untold sufferings.”
The locals complained that despite the serious situation, the concerned administration did not take any initiative. Thus fishermen and boat people continue to suffer.
The water of Kaptai Lake is largely used for drinking by a sizeable number of the hill people. As a result, the residents are forced to use polluted water as there is no water purification system.
Therefore, the locals have demanded that authorities take immediate steps to remove the water hyacinths from the lake and clean it.
However, Lt Commander M Touhidul Islam, manager of Bangladesh Fisheries Development Corporation (BFDC) in Rangamati, said there is obstruction only in areas where the water hyacinths have massed. In particular, the Kaindar Point of Kaptai Lake was covered with water hyacinths for about 10 days.
Under the direction of Rangamati Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, the Rangamati Launch Owners-Workers Association and BFDC are removing water hyacinth from Kaptai Lake using three launches.
“Hopefully, in a few days, people will not have to suffer due to water hyacinths while boat-riding on the lake," said Touhidul Islam.
Md Ashraful Islam, the chief executive officer of Rangamati Hill District Council, said that a permanent is required to eradicate the notorious plants from the lake.
He said the matter would be discussed with the chairman of Rangamati Hill District Council.
Moin Uddin Selim, president of the Rangamati Launch Owners' Association, said there were problems in navigating to various places including Subalang, Borokol, Jurachhari and Bilaichhari for water hyacinths in Kaptai Lake. Water hyacinths also affect the transportation of passengers and essential goods.
He sought the immediate intervention of the relevant authorities.
Ramzan Ali, who is in charge of managing the tourist boat operators at the Rangamati tourist wharf, said as tourists have started coming after a long Covid-19-induced lockdown, water hyacinths are coming in the way of smooth travelling.
“If this problem is not addressed permanently, we will suffer huge losses," he said.