Catastrophe in Hakaluki haor: Nature's fury fuelled by negligence
Thousands of families living in and around the Hakaluki haor in Sunamganj, Moulvibazar and close by areas are virtually on the verge of "doomsday" as they have lost life saving crops, fishes in water and ducks in farms across hundreds of miles ravaged by the wrath of nature -- that comes in the form of flash floods every year.
The flash flood is early flooding before the advent of rainy season, caused by excessive rain and onrush of water from hills across the Indian border that have swept the country recently sending vast areas in the haor zones under water.
Crops, especially rice and paddy, almost ready for harvest have been destroyed by torrents in the haor, which is also a recluse for local and migratory birds and known for duck farming. Together these provide the lifeline to millions of people living in haor (swamp) areas in several north-eastern districts.
Now the areas have gone deep under water, crops washed away or inundated and rotten. This has been an annual feature in low lying eastern areas of Bangladesh but new scourge added this year are the mass deaths of fishes and ducks. Dead fish and ducks are floating in the haor further contaminating water already polluted by rotting rice plants.
Fishery department officials have poured huge quantity of limestone in the water trying to save the fishes but in vain. So far, no one has a clear idea as to what is causing the death of hundreds of ducks -- threatening to send the duck farmers on the dock like the farmers and fishermen. In previous years, local residents say, they encountered no case of their ducks dying due to flash flood.
Some people say it's a scourge from Allah, while local experts say the devastation has been caused due to changes in climate and others say the flooding spread on wider areas because of negligence and failure of the government and concerned officials to take appropriate measures to tame the surge and protect life and living in the haor areas.
They said the government at times initiated some plans and gave out money to build dams and dykes around the Hakaluki haor to deter the annual cataclysm, but the money was mostly squandered by the corrupt politicians and officials. They acted in self interests but gave no damn to the people's sufferings.
Now as the crops and fishes have mostly gone the desperate duck farmers are selling their remaining birds at throwaway prices, local people said. "This is a disaster zone we live in and have been doomed to die eventually," said one disgruntled farmer in Sunamganj.
During the early summer last year (April, 2016), crops were also destroyed by rain-fed flash floods in Sunamganj and neighbouring districts. The authorities at the time promised to undertake "state of the earth" schemes to gird the haors with dams and dykes built on the Kushiyara and other rivers which often swelled above their danger levels sending more waters into the flood affected areas.
People say, they cannot do anything against the will of Allah, but they want punishment of the corrupt officials and politicians who persistently ignored their plight while inflating their own pockets.
As the situation in Hakaluki and other haor areas continue to worsen, the media also remained surprisingly silent -- except for a few newspapers and online outlets. Instead, they are more interest in displaying and portraying cheap, saucy and personalized issues cantering film stars, movie moguls and day-today political quagmires.
Why the authorities are so naive about mounting sufferings of the people in the country's north-east? No precise answer is available immediately. But people guess the people who matter in decision making and implementing are more busy managing issues in the centre of administration and politics -- especially in the capital Dhaka -- as the government and ruling party want to extend their stay in power through the parliamentary election due in less than two years.
The opposition parties including Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) -- the second biggest political party in the country after ruling Awami League -- are too busy trying to restore order in their fractured domains. Therefore, there is hardly anyone to raise their voice against the inordinate neglect and failure to address problems in the haors and their peripheries.
Anis Ahmed is Executive Editor,
The Daily Observer