It was a nerve-wrecking and shocking scene to watch a recent TV footage showing a big three storied building collapsing into a river. The scene was not that of any earthquake. It was a part of the Upazila health complex at Naria in Shariatpur that fell into the Padma as the mighty river continued its erosion spree. According to reports, hundreds of houses and business establishments including a mosque along the bank of the river were washed away in the recent weeks due to unabated erosion. Thousands of people were displaced while a sizeable area of cropland lost.
River erosion is a silent but serious natural disaster for Bangladesh. It is nothing new in this country which boasts of having over seven hundred rivers. A recent report from NASA Earth Observatory in USA quoting satellite records said that an area measuring about 256 square miles was devoured by the Padma alone during the last one decade. This is not due to any tectonic movement or any mechanical intervention but a natural phenomenon of river flow. However, river erosion does have a serious impact on the topographical transformation as well as on the socio-economic conditions of people living adjacent to rivers that are prone to doing the damage.
The rivers would flow according to their own whims. The situation makes it difficult in our country being a lower riparian one and all the water comes from the upstream. During monsoon, the volume of water in rivers goes up and river flow obviously gathers extra pace thereby leading to rampant erosion of the banks. Nevertheless, deforestation, lack of embankment and unplanned human settlement and activities are no less responsible for the disasters.
For most of the erosion tragedies in our country, fingers are pointed at the Water Development Board. Taking Naria as the case in point, Board is said to have planned long ago to build an embankment but the work could never roll into action. Like this, there is a plethora of examples of carelessness of the concerned authorities.
Why are human settlements and structures allowed within such close proximity of big rivers knowing well the risks and hazards? It is known that each year about twenty thousand acres of land are devoured by rivers. Besides loss of cropland, this causes a lot of socio-economic problems like displacement, migration and unemployment.
No matter how gigantic the task is for water management and checking erosion, the concerned authorities must embark upon appropriate plans and actions. In the backdrop of climate change impacts, the situation is bound to aggravate. It is high time the Water Development Board and others in the local administration rolled up their sleeves to jumpstart the efforts to save people facing the threat of river-erosion.
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