Caring for the homeless from river erosion at Naria

Nilratan Halder | Published: September 14, 2018 20:49:06

Water Resource Minister Anwar Hossain has sounded philosophical when he almost echoed the immortal song, O nadire (Hey river) sung by Hemanta Mukhopadhya. The minister comments it is the order of Nature that one shore of a river will erode and the other will reemerge. Addressing the river, Hemanta's song at one point runs like this: Ekul bhango, okul tumigaro (you demolish this shore and rebuild the other shore). But a song is a song that melts the heart because it has something beyond the ordinary, the material world. So it goes on: jar ekul okul dokul galo, tar lagi ki karo (what do you do for that hapless one who has lost both his shores? Here the important phrase is dokul. It is not the shore in conventional sense but something that holds life together. The metaphorical use of shores of life has transcended the song from the ordinary to the spiritual.

However, the victims of river erosion in Naria Upazila have no time to reflect on such spiritual or philosophical quest. All they are interested in is to keep their body and soul together right at this moment when the Padma has been devouring their houses, shops, other establishments and farmlands. Hardly has the river turned so furious in decades, although there was clear sign that it could behave so frenziedly anytime. If the Centre for Environment and Geographical Information Services (CEGIS) under the Water Deveopment Board is to be taken into confidence, an area of more than 13 sq kilometre under Naria Upazila has gone under water in the past seven years. The rate of erosion each year was a little over half a sq kilometre. So the prediction of erosion was there and the CEGIS issued the warning four months ago.

Whether prior information of four months is enough to put in place an effective deterrence to a ferocious river like the Padma is debatable but that the administration sat completely idle is unacceptable. No attempt was made to arrest the advancing river that has been more aggressive since July last taking over a land area of more than 2.0 sq kilometres. Now, many establishments including the upazila health complex has either been devoured or about to disappear. The worse is yet to happen, if the indication so far is any guide.

About five thousand inhabitants of the upazila have been rendered homeless by the devastating erosion in the past three months alone. In the face of hostility of the river, these people losing their home and hearth, their croplands and livelihoods in the process are facing uncertainty. How life has been cruel to them. Even storms and floods do not wreak ruination of this order. After the storm subsides and flood water recedes, people can at least return to the place where their homes were and rebuild a shelter either with help from others or from their savings. But when no sign of the homestead is left by an insatiable river, the victims suffer the most extreme hostility.

In a situation like this, people are prone to be fatalistic because of the lack of any effective government policy or plan for their rehabilitation. Rumours also become ripe. In case of excessive river erosion, experts have pointed at the soil construction of Naria. A hundred or a hundred and a half years' old, the area is full of sand. Because of the excessive proportion of sand in the area's soil, it easily gives into the river when in spate in the monsoon, experts argue. That here is also a river of unpredictable nature has been confirmed by the engineers now engaged in construction of the pillars of the Padma bridge. The moving soil bed poses a special challenge for construction of a few pillars in the mid river.

Now the villagers are gullible to the rumour that after the river training was conducted for the bridge, the rate of erosion at Naria point has speeded up. Whether there is a basis or not of this complaint cannot be established unless a thorough study on this is carried out. But there is little chance such a study will ever be undertaken. Even if this is not done, let the families falling victim to river erosion in Naria hope for a comprehensive plan for their rehabilitation so that they can lead a decent life instead of turning floating beggars in cities and towns! That is the least citizens of this country deserve to enjoy as their inalienable right from their government and the latter is duty-bound to do as much.

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