(Clockwise) Shamsul Alam, Onno Van Manen, Sheldon Yett and Runa Khan

Chars have fertile land. The people living in Chars are also hard working. They have transformed the sandy Chars into greenery with their hard work. Their contribution to agriculture and livestock is now acknowledged.

But in terms of education, health and other basic rights, they are lagging behind. The rights of the Char people have to be ensured like the people in the mainland.

Different government organisations have to deliver their services to Char people. The problems, possibilities and capabilities of the Char people have to be considered as a partnership between the government and the private sector.

These topics came up at a roundtable titled ‘What to do to improve the standard of living of people living in Chars in North Bengal’. Non-government organisation Friendship and Prothom Alo jointly organised the roundtable at the Prothom Alo office in the capital on Sunday.

The state minister for planning Shamsul Alam was the chief guest of the event. He said the government is mindful about improving the living standard of the Char residents.

According to the government’s sustainable development strategy, development can’t be achieved with people left behind. So, the government has to check whether the people living in Chars are receiving available government benefits.

Mentioning that the Chars have potential for cattle rearing, the state minister said, the livestock department services are insufficient in Chars and need to be increased. Even though there is allocation for this in the national budget every year, it’s not being utilised.

He opined that there is a need for inspection to see if there is any lack of coordination. The state minister also spoke about providing digital services to allow the Char people to avail crucial information on agriculture, health and education.

Executive director of Friendship Runa Khan said, the people living in Chars have a lot of potential. She said, Chars are far away from the mainland. So, they need to be provided with opportunities. If the basic needs of the Char people are met with, they can live their lives whichever way they want to. Runa Khan said, the children from Chars are not only studying in famous educational institutes, they are also working in big corporations. Some of them are even set to study at Oxford University.

UNICEF representative to Bangladesh Sheldon Yett emphasised on ensuring social security, nutrition, medical care, sanitation and other related services for the Char residents.

Save The Children’s Bangladesh country director Onno Van Manen said, it’s time to think about climate change, which is even more important for the children living in Chars of Bangladesh.

Professor at development studies of Dhaka University, Kazi Maruful Islam, presented the keynote paper at the event highlighting the difference between the national poverty rate and the poverty rate in the northern region despite the improvement in people’s living standard.

Char people will have to be included in the development target of the country, he said adding, flood and river erosion are big problems now and that is why poverty persists among Char people more than the people living in the mainland.

Kazi Maruful Islam said it is a big challenge to ensure health and education in Char area where gender-based violence, dowry and child marriage are common. NGOs and the government will have to work on these problems through partnership.

Representative of Gaibandha’s Fulchhari community Nuree Chowdhury revealed the state of education, health, sanitation and various sufferings of the Char people. He said people can go to shelter centre riding on banana raft during flood but they had no scope to bring their cattle. Besides, drought has become a big disaster in Char area now.

Chairman of Kurigram’s Jatrapur union parishad Abdul Gafur said eight out of nine wards in his union are surrounded by Dudhkumor, Brahmaputra and Gangadhar rivers. There are primary schools in Char area but no secondary school. If engine boat is launched in char area for communication, teachers and students will get the benefit, he observed.

Rural Development Academy (RDA) M4C project director Md Abdul Majid said Char area has potential for agriculture and cattle. Like the Char livelihood programme, multifaceted activities are going on under this project to increase the income of Char people.

A revolution took place in maze cultivation in Char area of Kurigram, Lalmonirhat and Gaibandha districts, with production rising to 30-40 mounds an acre from 10 mounds per acre. Each house has at least a cow in Char area and if the variety of cows is developed, there will be a huge potential in livestock, he added.

Bengal Foundation director general Luva Nahid Choudhury said the Char people have their own culture. So nothing should be imposed on them from the outside.

Mention the existence of high gender-based inequality in the Char area, Friendship's director Ayesha Tasin Khan made a call to eliminate this.

Centre for Peace and Justice (CPJ) director Shahariar Sadat, associate professor of anthropology at Rajshahi University Mohammad Altaf Hossain, RDRS Bangladesh head of administration Md Nazrul Gani and National Char Alliance member secretary Jahid Rahman, among others, addressed the event

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum delivered the welcome address while Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury moderated it.