Kutubdia shirking, people rushing to cities

Tidal surges often inundate Kutubdia as there is no sustainable dyke surrounding the Island upazila. This photo was taken from Mofjal Mia village of Kutubdia on 24 November 2024.Prothom Alo

The ward 9 Khudiaryek of Ali Akbar Dail union of the island upazila of Kutubdia in Cox’s Bazar exists in paper only after the land vanished in the Bay of Bengal. At least 30,000 residents of this area took shelter 100km away in Cox’s Bazar city and, currently, 15 families live on the embankment of the Tabaler Char next to Kudhiartek.

The family of Kudhiartek ward member Anowara Begum lives in Tabaler Char. She said there were 40,000 people in Kudhiartek at the end of 1990, but nobody lives here now. At least 3,000 acres of land vanished in the sea during the 1991 floods and tidal surges.

Another 30,000 people also left the Kutubdia upazila after they were displaced in Kaiyarbeel, Uttar Dhurang, Dakkhin Dhurang, Lemshikhali and Barghop of the upazila. People displaced from Kutubdia took refuge on the government land in the coastal area of Cox’s Bazar city, as well as Ramu, Pekua, Teknaf, of Cox’s Bazar, Lama, Alikadam of Bandarban, Banshkhali, Mirsrai, Raujan, Satkania and Lohagara of Chittagong.

This correspondent visited six union parishads of the island on 21-23 October of last year and talked to at least 300 people from different professions. It has been learned that people’s livelihoods become difficult in this upazila due to the impact of climate change. Crops do not grow due to salty water. There is a crisis of drinking water. On top of that, lands are vanishing in the sea due to storms and tidal surges.

Over 50,000 people left the island

Abdul Wahed, 85, bet his life on the sea since his birth. He grew paddy and vegetables on 2 acres of land and had a happy family. They also reared chickens, ducks, cattle, buffalo and goats. Now everything is memory. A devastating storm and tidal surge destroyed his family on 29 April 1991, killing his four daughters, and taking away 2 acres of paddy field and 40 decimal of homestead.

According to the upazila administration, a large portion of the Kutubdia vanished in five major cyclones and tidal surges from 1872 to 1991. Khidiartek and Rajakhali mouza were wiped out from the map after the 1991 storm and tidal surge.

The area of Kutubdia has now stood at 30-35, COAST Foundation executive director Rezaul Karim Chowdhury observed. He said, currently, 153,000 people live in this upazila and more than 60,000 people left the island after being displaced. Lands are also shirking. If initiatives are not taken to construct sustainable embankments, arrange alternative livelihoods and tackle the damages of climate change, otherwise crisis will intensify, he added.

Embankment breaking, mangrove forest being destroyed

Mangrove forest was created on about 10 acres of land in 1986, surrounding the entire Kutubdia. Influential people started destroying mangrove forests in 1990 to build shrimp enclosures and salt fields.

Forest department Kutubdia range Shamim Reza said currently, there are about 300 acres of mangrove forests on a 17-km stretch from Ali Akbar Dail to Dakkihn Dhurong. No mangrove forests grow now because of alluvial land.

A 40-km-long and 10-to 12-feet high embankment was built surrounding the island during the Pakistan period to protect Kutubdia from tidal surges, but the embankment did not last due to various disasters. About 18 km of the embankment was broken two years ago.

Farmer Ali Hossain, 56, along with his wife and four children lives in a shack made of bamboo and tarpaulin in Haji Mafzal Mia village in Koyarbil union. The place where his house was 32 years ago is now 2 km inside the sea. As the cycle destroyed his house, he built a new house on the nearby paddy field. When this one was destroyed he moved to another house. Ali Hossain is utterly distraught about losing his home four times. He said there is no income source in the area and people are shifting to towns for livelihood.

People’s livelihoods become difficult in this upazila due to the impact of climate change. Corps do not grow due to salty water. There is a crisis of drinking water. On top of that, lands are vanishing in the sea due to storms and tidal surges.

Citing the mangrove forest as a safety net to the coast, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon’s (BAPA) Cox’s Bazar chapter president Fazlul Qauder Chowdhury said the island embankment was massively damaged during the 1991 cyclone because of destroying mangrove forests. Since then, billions of taka have been spent to mend the broken embankment, but a sustainable embankment was not built because of corruption, he added.

Currently, there is a 40-km-long muddy embankment built by the Water Development Board surrounding the island, the agency’s

Bangladesh Water Development Board’s (BWDB) Cox’s Bazar office executive engineer Tanzir Saif Ahmed said currently, there is a 40-km-long muddy embankment built by BWDB surrounding the island. Effort is underway to construct a super dyke to tackle climate change-related risk.

Cox’s Bazar-2 (Moheshkhali-Kutubdia) lawmaker Asheq Ullah Rafiq said the proposed dyke will be 10-metre high from sea level. There will be a two-lane road on it. Big-sized concrete block will be installed on the slope of both sides. It may take several more months to implement the project, he added.

BWDB sources said a project has been taken up to construct a super dyke to protect 642-km coast stretching from Cox’s Bazar to Mirsarai of Chattogram and from Feni to Rahmatkhali of Noakhali at an estimated cost of Tk 801.33 billion. Of the dyke, 63 kilometres fall in Kutubdia.

Once the super dyke is built, at least 10,000 acres of land in Khudiartek, Ali Akbor Dail and Koyarbeel are likely to turn out to be inhabitable and cultivatable, Kutubdia upazila parishad chairman Faridul Islam Chowdhury observed.

Salinity poses a health risk

The house of trader Amir Hossain is in the central part of the island near the Borghop Bazar. Drinking water was found in his tube well five years ago, but it gives salty water. He sank another 900-feet deep tube well six months ago, but could not find drinking water.

There were 21,000 tube wells in six unions of the upazila, and at least 12,000 of those bring saline water. Uapazila public health engineering department deputy assistant engineer Md Al Amin said dirking water is not being found even at 2,000 feet in wards 4 and 7 of Boroghop union, as well as several villages including Molomchar of Koyarbeel union.

A project is being implemented to install a 13-km pipeline in Koyarbeel union, a 10-km pipeline in Boroghop union and  a12-km pipeline in Lemshikhali and a 7-km pipeline in Dakkhin Durong under the "bringing urban facilities to village” project to supply drinking water to at least 2,000 families.

Upazila health and family planning officer Golam Mostafa said the impact of climate change is increasing health risks to people in Kutubdia.

This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna