Around 500 hectares of land have become unfit for cultivation in the upazila after being buried under sand and gravel due to landslides in the upper catchment areas
The Tanguar haor (wetland ecosystem) in Sunamganj continues to suffer a catastrophic loss of livelihoods and biodiversity, threatening not just the extinction of numerous species and irreplaceable genetic variety, but also food supply, health, security, and tourism.
Located at the foothills of India’s Meghalaya state, the ecological balance in the district’s Tahirpur upazila is being disrupted over time as homesteads, croplands and waterbodies keep getting buried under sand and gravel with every sudden landslide in the upper catchment areas.
And as a result of the adverse impact on biodiversity, farmers are failing to grow crops on hundreds of acres of sand-covered arable land and aquatic creatures in the local reservoirs are either dying out or changing habitat.
Over the years, more than two hundred families in Chanpur, Rajaniline and Rajai villages under the upazila have become destitute. The last major landslide occurred on August 16 on the other side of the border.
Faridul Hasan, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension in Sunamganj, said arable land in three villages of Tahirpur upazila and 350 hectares of land in a beel there have become unsuitable for cultivation due to the sand cover.
According to unofficial data, around 500 hectares of land have become unfit for cultivation in the upazila after being buried under sand and gravel.
Residents of Chanpur village said regular mining of coal and stones on the hills of Meghalaya puts them, the foothill dwellers, in danger.
They said they still remember the monsoon of 2007, when a sudden landslide buried a vast tract of land under the sand. Many families moved elsewhere due to scarcity of food.
A resident, Akhter Banu, said: “I have lost my home to the landslides. Now I have no choice but to leave this place, like many before me, including many indigenous families.”
Meanwhile, environmental groups claim that some unscrupulous people are illegally fishing, logging trees, and shooting migratory birds, putting the biodiversity of Tanguar Haor in jeopardy.
In recent years, the number of birds in the haor has declined. Furthermore, fish production has decreased, and the lives of aquatic organisms are in grave danger as a result of deliberate contamination.
Nihar Ranjan Talukder, a schoolteacher living on the banks of the haor, said, “When I was a child, I used to see a lot of big fish in the Tanguar haor. I would also wake up to the fascinating sounds of birds chirping early in the morning. Now we don’t see any of this.”
Tahirpur Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Raihan Kabir told Dhaka Tribune that the environment and biodiversity of the Tanguar haor were being damaged due to multifarious reasons. “An action plan is being worked out with the stakeholders on the Ramsar site policy and prevention of deforestation.”
Speaking on the issue, Sunamganj Deputy Commissioner Jahangir Hossain said the sands and gravels carried downstream by the current will be removed soon.
He said: “We will auction off the minerals to the highest bidder.”
He hoped to remove the mineral within a month so that local farmers could begin to cultivate their lands in November.
Meanwhile, Adv Shah Shaheda Akhter, Sylhet divisional coordinator of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), urged the authorities to assess the total damage caused by the sands and rocks from the hills of Meghalaya and rehabilitate the affected families and restore the damaged agricultural land.