Take steps now to prevent catastrophe

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Heavy rainfall and water flowing down from upstream are not the only reasons behind this year’s terrible floods in Sylhet. Alongside riverbeds, haors also being filled and this is the main cause of the second outbreak of floods within a month and and also for water failing to recede quickly.

The picture of the haors (wetlands) in Bangladesh that surfaced in a seminar organised by Institute of Planning and Development on Friday, is quite alarming.

The seminar highlighted research findings in decades of change in the use of land in the haor region and the extent of recent floods.

There’s no doubt that there has been extensive floods in Sylhet region, but did we explore the reasons behind it? There has been a record amount of rainfall in Assam this time. There has been excessive rainfall in Bangladesh as well. But, why did we fail to curb the upstream flow and rainwater swiftly?

It is the water bodies such as the haors, baors, canals and rivers of this region that accumulates the rainwater. However, over the course of the last three and a half decades, the scenario of those rivers and haors has changed entirely. Along with rivers, the haors have filled up too.

According to the research report presented in the seminar, in 1988 haors had an area of 3,034 square kilometers in the country. It dropped down to only 406 square kilometers in 2020. This suggests that haors have decreased by 86 per cent.

According to the water resources ministry, there are haors only in seven districts of Bangladesh. Those districts are Sunamganj, Sylhet, Netrokona, Moulvibazar, Kishoreganj, Habiganj and Brahmanbaria. How much of these wetlands are actually still there in reality and how much has become history, is a matter of debate.

If this trend continues, there will be no wetlands left in the country. In fact, it will be taught in schools that haors are a thing of the ‘past’. Every year, we realise the dire consequences of filling up of rivers and haors.

What’s unfortunate is that it still fails to affect conscience. Conservation of the water bodies or the environment doesn’t get priority in government’s development plans.

Opportunists, in their vested interests, take on such projects that are primarily centred on the destruction of nature and environment. ‘Miraculously’ these get approval too.

Every year there are discussions about protecting the rice crops in the wetlands. Different irregularities and anomalies regarding embankments are discussed too.

However, we don’t see anything about the protection of the haors. This clarifies the mindset of the government. Now when most of the country’s haors have been lost, falling in the hands of ‘development bandits’, what’s the explanation behind this? And what is the agency organisation, Bangladesh Haor and Wetland Development Board, been doing?

In order to protect the haors, concerned people have to be made accountable. The development activities that are going on by grabbing and filling up the haors, have to be stopped.

We must keep in mind that haors are not there just for paddy and fish; they have significant contribution towards protecting our nature and environment too. Like rivers, haors are also living entities. The government should take effective and sustainable steps for the protection of haors, if they don’t wish to see them being destroyed.