- Erosion going on in around 60 villages
- Many people are losing land
- May to October (six months of a year) is monsoon
- 23 villages lost in a few decades
- Demand of constructing permanent dam to protect villages
For ages, a particular kind of grass, locally called "Chailya", is what has protected villages in the Haors of Netrokona from erosion by huge waves that break on the villages.
Especially during the rainy season, when the waterbodies become turbulent and the villages lose, bit by bit, their landscape to this erosion, this grass has been a great protection.
But now that this grass is not growing any more in the region for reason unknown, these villages are failing to protect themselves against the onslaught of the mammoth waterbodies.
Afal during monsoon
At least 60 villages in six unions of Khaliajuri upazila of the district have been under threat of erosion. Day by day, they are getting smaller in size, leaving a large number of people displaced.
In the last few decades, about 23 villages and thousands of households have completely disappeared in the Haor. The names of these villages are only in the documents but they no longer exist.
Khaliajuri is the lower region in the district, and six months (May to October) are the monsoon in this part. The villages then turn into small islands surrounded by water from all sides.
During this period, the Haor witnesses huge waves triggered by wind. Waves, measuring three to four feet high, hit the villages, and houses disappear in just minutes. The residents of Haor call this Afal.
Island-like villages are now mere slums
The island villages have taken the shape of slums. With time, the six unions have been hit the hardest, and many villages have been wiped out.
Those who lost their land in Afal have taken shelter in the villages that still survive. Consequently, the villages are becoming more and more densely populated, with new huts being set up. Further, the price of land in these villages is skyrocketing.
The affected unions of Khaliajuri have a special land measurement. The land is measured by the hands (five hands, ten hands, etc). The price of one decimal of the land here is now at least Tk100,000 - which is almost similar to the land price of Khaliajuri Upazila town.
Earlier, during the monsoon, aquatic grass "Chailya" was found everywhere in the Haor areas. The grasses could easily survive even in dry season. Besides, they would become fresher when they came in touch of water.
People in the Haor area have been using the grass around their homes for centuries to prevent erosion by rain.
Chailya grass held the soil together. So, the people built temporary barriers in the villages with bamboo and wood along with Chailya grass collected from the Haor to prevent the waves from hitting the bank.
But for around past 20 years, the Chailya grasses are not seen in Haor areas. It has completely vanished. Sadly, no research has been conducted why Chailya grass is no longer grows in Haor.
The local residents do not know the exact reason, but most of them think that there are many reasons.
They say that Chailya usually grows on fallow lands, and it used to grow with the rain water. But as a result of the widespread use of tractors (ploughing machine), there is no longer any fallow land in the areas.
On the other part, fertilisers and herbicides have been used randomly in the land expecting higher yields. But the adverse effects of all these have led to the extinction of Chailya grass from Haor as well.
Moreover, the increase in the price of bamboo and wood has made it impossible for the people of Haor to build strong barriers. And bamboo is still rare in Haora areas.
Erosion across the Haor
Anjali Rani Sarkar, wife of the late Birendra Sarkar of village Udaipur, is one of such unfortunate people. Her residence is located on the east side of Puranhati, a small village.
At the beginning of this monsoon, part of her residence including kitchen was destroyed in Haor. So far, she has been trying to protect the rest of the house with bamboo, wood and water hyacinth. She has already spent around Tk6,000.
When the waves rise with the wind, I become afraid. I do not know when I will lose my house
"When the waves rise with the wind, I become afraid. I do not know when I will lose my house," said Anjali Rani Sarkar.
Echoing Anjali, Abdul Momin of village Jagannathpur said parts of his house have been washed away while his entire homestead is under threat.
He has checked the erosion temporarily with bamboo, straw, and tree branches. But this is not the solution. His wife Khodeja Khatun said, "We pray to Allah when Afal begins. We cannot sleep at night with our children in fear of Afal."
Krishnapur, known as the most extended village in the upazila, is also under a similar threat. The village is getting smaller in size. Not only this village, but also the Eidgah ground of Krishnapur and the important road up to Kutubpur have already collapsed due to the waves.
Visiting the Udaipur market, it was found that the southern part of the market was also being severely damaged. Besides, several shops have been devoured by the Haor.
At the same time, the Jagannathpur market was found collapsing. The residences of about 60 families of village Charpara were washed away in the Haor in just a few days.
Villages exist on map only
Local people said at least 23 villages of this upazila have been lost in the Haor in the last few decades. Many of them can still remember the names of the villages.
These villages are still mentioned in the records and maps of the land administration. But none of them now exist.
For instance, the Nagar Union was named after the village "Nagar." But there is no village called "Nagar" in that union now.
In contrary, the name of many villages has now become the name of Haors due to the non-existence of those residences. Hemnagar, Nurpur, Narayanpur, Nayanagar, Jagadishpur and Kacharibari were villages earlier but now, they are Haors.
Though the old villages are being wiped out by constant erosion, some new villages are also emerging in the heart of Haors.
These small villages in different areas of Khaliajuri have risen like new islands. Those who lost their lands have made the new settlements. In the last few decades, new villages like Gazipur, Chakua, Mendipur, Krishnapur and some villages under Khaliajuri Sadar Union have been set up in the Haor.
However, these newly formed villages are also facing the high tidal wave of Haor.
Shafiqul Islam Talukder and Swagato Sarkar Shuvo, two organisers of the civic movement for Haor development in Khaliajuri Sadar, said that defence barriers have been constructed with CC blocks at different times under the initiative of Concern Bangladesh, CARE Bangladesh's Souhardo Project and Local Government Engineering Department's "Hilip Project" initiated in Khaliajuri Sadar Union's Khaliajuri, Nayapara, Kishtpur, Chanpur of Nagar Union, Daudpur of Gazipur Union and a portion of Jagannathpur village under Mendipur Union.
The villages could be protected from erosion by using two types of engineering technology. The first one is building a retaining wall made of brick, and the other one is laying CC blocks made of a mixture of stone, cement and sand
As a result, those villages have been saved from erosion, but there is no initiative in the rest of the villages of Haor.
Khaliajuri Upazila Engineer (LGED) Mohammad Yunus Ali said the villages could be protected from erosion by using two types of engineering technology.
"The first one is building a retaining wall made of brick, and the other one is laying CC blocks made of a mixture of stone, cement and sand. However, the size of the CC block must be thick. And we need extensive afforestation, which may help prevent erosion."
In this case, water-friendly plants such as Hijal, Karach, among others can play a lead role, he added.
Golam Kibria Jabbar, chairman of Khaliajuri Upazila Parishad, said, "Khaliajuri Upazila is dependent only on boro crops. Paddy is grown once a year. There is no other way to protect the poor villagers except through permanent village protection barriers."
Khaliajuri Upazila Nirbahi Officer AHM Ariful Islam said, "We have prepared a list for the construction of village protection dams. The issue has been discussed in the meeting of the Upazila Disaster Management Committee, and a decision will be taken soon."
Deputy Commissioner Kazi Mohammad Abdur Rahman said, "The district administration will hold a meeting soon with the senior officials of the Ministry of Disaster Management, Ministry of Local Government and Ministry of Water Resources to build defence barriers in the eroded villages of the Haor in Khaliajuri."