Md Bayazid Khan
The almighty endowed Bangladesh lavishly with a plenty of natural beauties. The country has a variety of natural beauties like hills, longest sea beach, the largest mangrove forest (the Sunderbans) & other forests, rivers & canals, low lying wetlands (haors) etc. These beautiful places spread almost in all interior parts all over the country facing considerable challenges. But these places also have opportunities that need to be utilised properly. The entire naturally beautiful interior places are full of resources which may contribute significantly to the economic development of the country. These places need to be brought under a comprehensive plan for development for utilising its resources effectively.
Haors or wetlands are one of the resourceful but neglected areas, situated in the interior corners of the country. According to the Bangladesh Haor and Wetland Development Board, Sunamganj, Habiganj, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Brahmanbaria, Netrokona and Kishoreganj districts are dotted with as many as 373 Haors or large bowl-shaped wetlands. Haors are the wetland areas covered by water almost six or seven months in a year starting from the monsoon. People of haors are to depend on a single crop Boro and fishing (only from natural sources) to earn their livelihood. Being the cultivators of a single crop, people of haor belts contribute a lot to the overall rice production of the country.
But extreme poor communication system and absence of alternative earning sources are the vital reasons for economic deprivation and social inequalities. From April to October all the lands are submerged in water in Hoar areas. At that time, there is no land in sight. Water and only water is everywhere, nothing dry in sight. Lack of transportation and communication hinders access to houses, educational institutions, markets and remote places of haors which are the major impediments towards economic, social and cultural development of haor people.
Last few months talk of the country was about devastation in haors as prolonged rain and onrush of upstream water triggered flash floods inundated country’s low-lying haor areas in the northeastern region. Thousands of farmers in haors were hit hard by untimely flash flooding when they were getting ready to reap a good harvest. As farmers of haor districts are to depend on a single crop of Boro to earn their livelihood all the year round, so their sufferings know no bound because of their cultivated corps are damaged totally by the natural disaster that hit in the wetlands recently. The disaster not only led to the damage of corps but also deaths of fishes and damaging animal fodder. The ill-fated people were compelled to sell their cattle at a throw-away price too. The natural disaster also brought various indirect adverse affect on income generation, education etc.
The country’s media, intellectuals and experts were busy to identify causes and effects of the disaster immediately after the disaster took place. The discussion certainly will be stopped, but sufferings of haor people will never end. It is quite natural that natural disaster may hit anywhere, anytime. Nobody can resist natural disaster to take place. But well organised and comprehensive plan and preparedness may reduce loss of lives and resources. Knowing that flash floods may hit the wetlands anytime, the government had preparedness like previous years. The government provided necessary money for this year to strengthen embankments of haors for protecting crops. But absence of timely implementation of government plans and negligence in performing duties honestly & sincerely by officials concerned are the main causes of this year’s man-made havoc.
It is most unfortunate that the country’s intellectuals, experts, media were almost quiet year after year as was active in recent days despite of knowing haor people’s regular sufferings in the forms of “dependency only on single crop cultivation & fishing from natural source, absence of alternative way for livelihood, limited opportunities/resources in earning sources, shortages of manpower in service providing public offices, communication & transportation problems, negligence & dishonesty in implementing development friendly projects etc”. Taking the lessons from this year’s huge damages and sufferings of grief-stricken people of haors into account caused by natural and men-made disaster, the government and all concerned may consider the following challenges to be taken for uplifting haor people’s fate and living standard or economic condition.
Floating method or tower system vegetable cultivation might be encouraged during monsoon. Training to farmers and demonstration projects in each upazila by agriculture department/NGOs regarding these methods of vegetable cultivation may attract farmers to implement. Initiatives might be taken to motivate people for cultivating seasonal vegetables & crops in the fertile lands during the winter.
Haor people may be encouraged to opt for commercial fish farming in the sweet water of ponds, canals or rivers. They might be ensured of providing financial and logistic supports with training by the fishery department. Livestock department may take initiative to encourage people for duck farming and providing them with training on duck husbandry. Duck farmers might be provided too with logistic & financial supports.
Haors are the fertile land of presenting genius to the nation. The government needs to chalk out suitable plans for identifying or exploring potential geniuses of haors by creating their smooth access to qualitative education. Residential primary and secondary schools might be established to dispel students’ absence at schools during monsoon and months after monsoon. Well-off community people may be involved to bear the huge expenses of providing residential students with food. During harvest they may contribute in cash or kind like giving rice, egg, fish and duck meat to supplement the government contribution. These residential schools might be used as flood shelter too. The government may think of introducing floating boat schools at the hard to reach pockets of haors.
By keeping nature and beauty of haors intact for protecting ecological balance, connecting submerge roads or flyovers and river ways may be constructed to establish well intra & inter communication/transportation networks at villages, unions, upazilas and districts within haors. Public and private investors might be inspired to invest on establishing agro based industries like fish and dry fish processing factories, factories of frozen fast foods from fishes & ducks (nuggets, burgers, hot dogs, balls, fingers, rolls, patties etc), factories of frozen fishes & duck meats, animal feed industries, rice product industries etc as low cost raw materials are available here in plenty. Moreover, the government might take initiatives to import frozen food items from these factories.
Haor could be an excellent destination of tourism. Regarding this, the government may construct flyovers to connect all seven districts within haor with Dhaka by keeping the provision of both road & railway on the flyovers. River cruise might be launched to see the beauty of haor by keeping the arrangement of cultural programme to present Bangladesh to the domestic & foreign tourists. Sightseeing cable cars may attract tourists to enjoy the natural beauty of haor. High rise multi storied towers might be set up in the different parts of haor and there might have cafes of fast foods & coffee as well as internet cafes at the top. Downstairs of towers may be kept open for boat movement and smooth flow of haor water.
Arrangements of colourful and well decorated small boats may attract tourists to go different towers. These tower could also be used by haor people during rain or storm as shelter while transportation. Expansion of tourism in haor districts may create alternative way of earning source to the local people. Besides lovely & healthy places in the huge water of haors for amusement, other potential tourism spots should be identified and nourished for attracting tourists so that they have various options to choose haor districts for tourism.
Haor allowance for public and private service holders might be introduced for attracting them to choose haor areas for service spontaneously. As a result people of haor may receive highest level of benefits of government services.
All the government and non-government agencies should have coordinated and comprehensive plan for haor areas and its people’s development and plan should be implemented and monitored properly and frequently.
The writer is working for primary education in a haor district.