Sixty-year-old Asia Beoa has spent most of her life on the embankment of the Dharala River in Kurigram. Her late father, Mandu Miah, was a day labourer who sought shelter on the embankment long before – when he became a victim of river erosion.
She and her mother Jarina Begum, 80, after Asia's father's death, supported their family by doing odd jobs like preparing cow dung fuel sticks.
Later, Asia married and gave birth to a baby girl. However, she did not lead a happy marital life as her husband had two more wives. After her husband's death, she and her daughter moved to the embankment. Her daughter Sahera is a domestic worker. Now, she and her daughter are going to be homeless again as the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), Kurigram, issued a notice on December 23, 2018 that all illegal establishments would be removed from the embankment.
Initially, the water development board gave the residents one week to vacate the area, but later it extended the time by another week. Now, the authority concerned has decided not to give the residents more time.
Like Asia, around 40,000 people live in illegal establishments – made of thatch, bamboo and tin – on the 52.7-kilometre long embankment from Kaluar Char of Rajarhat upazila to Chilmari port area.
After receiving the notice, many of them moved and are living outdoors. Asia has not managed to find a place to live as of the filing of this report. Those evicted have visited local public representatives but have not found a solution.
Alea Beoa – another woman in her 60s – recently lost her husband but has had very little time to lament her husband's death as she is in search of accommodation.
Earlier, her house was at Fekamari Char and she had to move 12 times to different chars (river islands) because of the river erosion.
Finally, her husband bought five decimals of land on the embankment, from a local man, and started living there – without knowing that the land was public property. Alea does not know where to go now.
Liton, a carpenter, has been living in the area for 22 years. He faced the consequences of river erosion thrice when he was a resident of Kadamtala Char. After losing all his belongings and property, he came to this embankment. His family consists of his wife and two children.
He had been saving money for his daughter's marriage. Now after receiving the eviction notice, he is searching for a piece of land to buy. However, he has not found one in his price range.
Liton said, "I have disassembled my house but cannot manage to find new accommodation anywhere. I have failed to purchase a piece of land with my savings due to the high price of land. We are citizens of this country. We cast votes. But nobody thinks about us."
Kurigram Deputy Commissioner Sultana Pervin said, "The severity of flooding increases every year. So, it is necessary to renovate the embankment. Right now, it is not possible for the government to rehabilitate the huge number of people. However, gradually they will receive allotments of fallow land and will be prioritised for a rehabilitation programme."
Deputy District Engineer of the water development board Mahmud Hasan said, "A large number of people took shelter on the embankment, which was built between 1975 and 1980. The embankment's effectiveness has reduced because of the establishments built on it. Many areas that did not experience flooding earlier are now facing them. So, people living in the area have been served the notice."
"Four bulldozers are ready and we have no choice but to demolish the establishments if people refuse to remove their houses from the area," said Mahmud.