People in Noakhali's Hatiya have taken a voluntary initiative to protect the island from erosion by setting up geo-bags – soil containers made of non-woven geotextile used for embankment protection and river training work – on the banks of the Meghna River.
They have already started work to protect 700 metres of the river bank at an estimated cost of Tk4 crore. Local government offices, however, say the project could cost Tk7 crore.
People of the island, which has a population of 7 lakh, have been involved in the project, contributing money and labour. Public representatives in the area and the Bangladesh Water Development Board have also extended a helping hand.
Last year, the Water Development Board put up some geo-bags on an area of 297 metres on the bank that prevented erosion significantly. But, the bank eroded again this year and the river came close to Afazia market, the largest business centre in the upazila.
Terrified, the locals decided to come together to work shoulder to shoulder to prevent further erosion.
They have formed a 51-member voluntary body named Hatiya River Governance and Bank Conservation Voluntary Organisation for this purpose. Mohi Uddin Ahmed, general secretary of upazila Awami League, is the president of the body and Swechchhasebak League President Mohi Uddin Muhin and former UP member Azhar Uddin have been selected as general secretaries.
The organisation has already opened a bank account and a Facebook page in the name of the organisation for fundraising.
According to the people concerned, fundraising started in April; and in May, Tk70 lakh was deposited in the bank account. Many people from different parts of the country and abroad are also contributing.
Initially, they started working on 30 May by bringing 24,000 geo-bags from a factory in Gazirpur for a 200m stretch on the west and 500m on the east sides of the Nalchira Ghat. The work may take seven months to complete. Some 50 experienced workers are filling and dumping sand in the bags every day. The local people are also cooperating with them.
Humayun Kabir Bablu, chairman of Nalchira union, said, "Preventing erosion is our lifelong demand. We have taken this initiative ourselves as the authorities could not initiate it due to Covid-19."
He said expatriates from the union are contributing the most financing.
Mohi Uddin Muhin, general secretary of the organisation, said, "Former MP Mohammad Ali has encouraged us to initiate the project. He has already given 4 lakh feet of sand and Tk20 lakh. The Water Development Board in Noakhali is also cooperating in the implementation of our project."
Those who cannot contribute financially are helping through other means.
Sardar Altaf Hossain, a resident of Hatiya, said although he could not contribute any money, he and his family members are volunteering to put sand in the geo-bags.
Noakhali Water Development Board Executive Engineer Nasir Uddin said, "The government has already allocated 10,000 geo-bags for them. The depth of water at Nalchira Ghat has decreased a lot. If we can put geo-bags there, it may be effective to prevent erosion. The Water Development Board has provided a design for them. One of our representatives is supervising the project."
He said, "The cost of each geo-bag including soil filling and dumping will be Tk500. The cost per metre will be around Tk1 lakh. As such, it may cost them around Tk7 crore to complete the work on the 700-metre river bank."
Since independence, thousands of houses, hundreds of markets, schools, madrasas, mosques and other institutions in the upazila have been destroyed by the continuous erosion of the Meghna River. Three unions of Hatiya have completely disappeared in the river bed. At present, a large part of Sukhchar, Nalchira and Chanandi unions on the north side of Hatiya have been submerged in the river.