Wrath of Padma wreaks havoc
5,000 families affected; 20 schools, 700 businesses have gone into the river
Thousands of families are becoming homeless paupers overnight as the mighty Padma River has been devouring localities after localities in Naria upazila of Shariatpur district almost every day since June this year.
Houses of some 5,000 families, large swath of arable land, government and private establishments including 20 educational institutions, seven clinics and hospitals, and over 700 business houses have already been lost in the bed of river.
The erosion of the riverbanks near Bashtola, Sadhurbazar and Mulfotganj Bazar areas in Naria upazila took serious turn at the beginning of this week.
Almost 40 per cent of the 300 year-old Mulfotganj Bazar, the business hub in the surrounding vast area, has also been claimed by the river, which was two-kilometer away from Padma three months ago. The 50-seat Naria Upazila Health Complex, which was the main health service point for people, and another private medical, Life Care Hospital and Diagnostic Centre are situated in Mulfatganj Bazar.
The private medical as well as the main building of the public hospital has already been devoured by Padma. The rest 12 buildings of the 50-seat medical hospital are about to enter the gorge of the voracious river at any time.
"The goods and equipment of the medical hospital have been shifted to safer places. Health service has been suspended. Emergency medical service is being offered to some extent at the residential quarters of the physicians," Khalilur Rahman, Civil Surgeon of Shariatpur district, told the Daily Observer.
"The upazila and municipality headquarters are about two kilometers away and the river is advancing toward these at fast rate. If its progress cannot be stopped right now, the upazila will be erased from the country's map," said Shahidul Islam Babu Rari, mayor of Naria municipality. According to the upazila administration statistics, at least 4,000 families became homeless by the river erosion during the last two months.
Twenty educational institutions, six private clinics and diagnostics centres, many mosques and temples, 20 km pucca road, 10 bridges and culverts, vast arable lands and millions of trees have been erased. A shadow of darkness is hovering over the future of kids with the destruction of their educational institutions. Students do not know whether they will get the chance to participate in the upcoming annual examinations including the Primary Education Completion (PEC) and Junior School Certificate (JSC) examinations. The victims, many of them wealthy businessmen and solvent farmers have turned to homeless and hapless paupers. After losing everything to the river many of them have taken shelter at their relatives and friends. These correspondents during their spot visits saw the plight of the effected people and the horror of those about to be robbed of their property on Wednesday and Thursday.
Some of them have rented houses and some have built makeshift shanties on roadsides while others are living under the open sky. Many have no food and no money to purchase food for their children.
"Many of them were used to provide shelter to poor, now they are seeking shelters themselves. They never begged, now they are begging," Nazrul Islam Khalifa, a member of the Naria Bazar Businessmen Association said.
The affected people in some places are in want of safe drinking water. Some are suffering from various intestinal diseases, cold and fever, medical sources said.
Md Shafikul Islam, Executive Engineer of Water Development Board in Shariatpur said, "The government has already approved Tk 1,097 crore project to built embankment to protect the area."
"We have already built half of the Sureshwar-WAPDA embankment to stop Padma erosion. It is rainy season. We will start work as soon as the rain ceases," the Executive Engineer said.
But the people complained that the government did not take timely steps to protect them from river erosion. They authorities neither even took relief or rehabilitation initiatives for the affected wretched.
"We have been staging demonstrations in the area demanding construction of the embankment since long. But the Water Development did not take the initiative timely, Union Parishad member Rafique Kazi of Kedarpur Union said.
"The government had also approved Tk 5 crore as an extra to stop erosion by setting sand bags on the river bank. But everything washed away," he added.
Asked about relief and rehabilitation work, Sanjida Yasmin, Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Naria, said, "We have distributed dry food among 2,500 erosion victims. Corrugated tins and cash taka will be distributed among 350 erosion victims soon." AKM Enamul Haque Shamim, Organising Secretary of Awami League, said, "I have distributed cloths, rice, dal, oil, dry food and cash among 1,200 river erosion victims." Kazi Abu Taher, Deputy Commissioner of Shariatpur said, "We have been trying to give food, medicines and shelter to help the victims survive."