Tears of the Haor

Giasuddin Rana and Muhammad Ibrahim Ibne Towhid write about the hapless situation of a number of families in the flood-affected Haor areas of Bangladesh

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After the protection embankment cracked, gushing flood water inundated the boro crops of Paknar Haor, the second largest wetland of Sunamganj, leaving no hope for the residents of more than 60 villages in the early hours of April 24.

Wahid Ali, a farmer of village Vinnazara under Tanerbag union of Jamalganj upzaila, is dreading that his seven-member family would have nothing to sustain themselves with during the coming days as paddy in his four-acre land was washed away by the water. He says, ‘Half-ripen boro crops of around 9,500 hectare land of the Haor, located at Jamalganj and Derai upazila in Sunamganj and Khaliajuri upazila in Netrakona, have gone under water in a matter of only two hours after the protection dam collapsed’.

Farmers of more than 60 villages of the surrounding Haor areas have been working voluntarily for the last month to ensure that the protection embankment remains intact in a bid to save their paddy, the lone annual crop in the region. But all went in vain as the upstream water pressure across the border was too strong this time, adds Ali while expressing his despair.

Besides the dam, most of the roads in the area has been submerged in two to three feet water.

According to a primary official estimate published in New Age, over eight lakh people have been affected in the country’s Haor belt with 6.5 lakh tonnes of Boro crops going under water due to flashfloods, with Sunamganj hit the worst. The other affected districts are Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Netrakona, Kishoreganj and Brahmanbaria.

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The miseries do not end here. Local sources claimed that people, especially farmers, of the affected areas have been selling their livestock at cheaper rates in order to buy food. Some even tried to eat dead fishes but that led to further problems like stomach diseases. Thousands of ducks have reportedly been killed after eating the chemically poisoned fishes. Cows and other livestock have also died while those still alive are ailing from various diseases.

Md Imam, a farmer of Gulua village, says, ‘I had three thousand ducks in my farm. Around 1,200 ducks died all of a sudden. I suspect they had eaten the poisoned dead fishes from the nearby Daram Haor. Prior to this, we had spotted dead fishes floating there and now dead floating ducks have been added to the scene. I do not know how I can survive as I have been economically affected and each day more ducks from my farm are falling sick. However, I have only got some lime as relief to mix in the poisoned water.’

Ali Noor, a farmer of Dharmashala village, had planted Boro crops in 10 acres of land with an investment of Tk 70,000. Noor laments, ‘I intended to harvest 500 tonnes of rice this year. From my entire investment, Tk 50,000 came as a loan with high interest. I do not know what to do. On one hand, all my crops are gone and on the other, I have to pay the loan. I really do not know how I will manage to survive with my 10 member family. The storm also took away my house, which was my only shelter. I now do not have any place to stay.’

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The storm has also devastated hundreds of homes. Reports suggest that 300 homes were destroyed in Dharmashala village only along with the home of Ali Noor. Noor is not the only one in crisis; there are thousands of others with similarly sad stories.

Meanwhile, with food and job crisis, many people are being forced to move to urban areas in search of livelihood.

Farmer Kutub Uddin, along with members of his family, set out of his village for Sylhet city on April 29 as he had no food in his house and there was also no hope for a job in the locality after flash floods inundated his crops in Haor.

At the launch ghaat of Sachna Bazar area of Sunamganj, Kutub tells New Age, ‘We are now going towards the city in search of a job. But I am not sure what job I will find. If we fail to manage a job there, we will then move to the stone quarries along the Jaflong border for some work there.’

Like Kutub Uddin, many others from the flash flood-hit Haor areas in the district have been forced to leave their homesteads for the urban areas of the country, including Sylhet divisional city and capital city of Dhaka, in search of food and job.

Farmer Nibaran Das of Pratappur village at Shalla told New Age that the standing boro crop, the only annual crop of the Haor belt, in his eight acre land was damaged by the flash floods.

‘Fishes in the wetlands also died after the water became polluted by rotting half-ripen rice and paddy under the water,’ Nibaran adds. He says that this is the worst disaster that they have faced in a few decades.

‘I have been forced to leave home with my three children and wife for job. We will go to Bhairav by trawler and then to Dhaka by bus. I hope I can manage a job,’ Nibaran shares.

Dharmapasha upazila chairman Abdul Motalib Khan could not paint a hopeful picture as he told New Age that the flash flood has left no scope of work for the affected farmers as sand and stone extraction was suspended after the quarries in the locality went under water.

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More than a week has passed after the floods in the Haor. Shakil Ahmad, Sunamganj district relief and rehabilitation officer, said last week that 1.5 lakh flash flood-hit families in the district would be provided with VGF cards and each cardholder would be offered 30 kilogrammes of rice and Tk 500 each for a month under the government’s 100-day programme until July 31.

However, a number of public representatives alleged that the number of VGF card offered for their areas are insufficient against the number of affected families.

Derai upazila chairman Hafizur Rahman Talukder said that 16,500 families have been selected for VGF cards while all of about 45,000 affected families at the upazila were either farmers or related to agricultural works.  Nevertheless, ‘Only 16,500 cards are inadequate. At least 10,000 more VGF cards are needed in the upazila,’ Hafizur says.

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As affected farmers and families pass days in extreme crisis, around the early hours of May 1 a boat carrying 18,000 kilogrammes of rice meant for distribution among the flood-hit people in Sunamganj under the vulnerable group feeding programme sank in the River Surma of sadar upazila.

The people in these areas need help as most of them do not know how they will survive the next few weeks.

Giasuddin Rana is the Sunamganj correspondent of New Age