Sattar Ahmed, a farmer from Sunamganj, fears that early flooding will damage his crops this year as the construction of government embankment projects – like in prior years – might be hastily undertaken.
Almost every year, new embankment projects are launched. However, irregularities and corruption delay the establishment – or reparation – of dams, alleged the locals.
Sunamganj is a major contributor to the country's Boro production. Its Boro production is negatively affected when the district is submerged by March every year.
This year's embankment projects were launched on December 15, 2019 and are supposed to be complete by February 28. However, as of January 16, half of the work was yet to begin, concerning paddy farmers that the projects, as usual, would be completed poorly and hurriedly.
Facing cold highlands across the northern border of the country, Sunamganj experiences torrential rains as early as February every year.
With a quick onrush of rainwater from hilly areas, the district is submerged by March, much earlier than in other parts of the country.
Dams, built on the haors (wetlands) of Sunamganj, are intended to prevent this early flood. However, they have to be torn down soon after the Boro paddy cultivation season to allow water from rivers and rain into the haors and support fish farming. Thus, by March the following year, the dams must be rebuilt.
In 2017, when flooding caused hastily-constructed dams to collapse, Boro paddies on 2.23 lakh hectares of land were destroyed – while the crops on another 1.61 lakh hectares of land were also damaged, government sources claimed. However, the farmers claimed double the amount was damaged.
Following the disaster, the Water Development Board scrapped contractual work and replaced it with project implementation committees, which included local farmers.
The bodies are reformed every year to ensure the projects are properly implemented and there is accountability for the work. The upazila nirbahi officers and district administrators, separately, are selected as project activity supervisors.
The Water Development Board, tasked with implementing these projects, said it was waiting for the water levels in the haors to recede before beginning dam construction.
Too much sediment has piled up in these water bodies and reduced their depths – delaying the decline in water levels in the ongoing dry season.
However, officials of the government body claimed the projects would be completed according to schedule.
Bijan Sen, general secretary of the non-government organisation Haor Bachao, Sunamganj Bachao Andolon, countered that the officials were doing nothing to facilitate a rapid decline of haor water levels.
"If the Water Development Board does nothing about the water levels, February's heavy rains could lead to devastating floods in March," Bijan claimed.
Even though the district was supposed to have 704 project implementation committees this year, only about 600 have been formed. Additionally, till January 15, as many as 400 of these were yet to begin functioning.
Matian Haor and Shanir Haor are two of the biggest haors in Sunamganj. Until January 15, only five implementation committees had started their work, of the total 40 designated for the haors.
Primarily, 856-kilometre-long dams will be constructed on the 42 haors of 11 upazilas in Sunamganj with Tk67.45 crore.
Sabibur Rahman, executive engineer of the Sunamganj Water Development Board, said that though water levels in many haors did not recede early this year, work on most of the dams has started.
Like this year, work on the dams started in January last year but was completed on time, he added – claiming the work is progressing according to schedule.
To reduce the flood threat, certain points of the Surma River – one of Sunamganj's two major rivers – have been dredged.
Dredging is supposed to be conducted at several other points, with reduced navigability, along the river, the engineer added.
Sunamganj District Administrator Abdul Ahad said that to ensure that the projects are completed on time, strict supervision has been put in place.