Despite the onset of the dry season after the monsoon, fifty-two villages in Bhabdaha, a region in the south-west of the country straddling Khulna-Jashore that became known for its chronic waterlogging over two generations, remain submerged.
The Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) have taken up irrigation projects to alleviate the waterlogging over this huge area recently. However, residents are skeptical about its success.
Sorrow of Bhabdaha
In 1961-62, a 21-vent sluice gate was built on the Hari River flowing through Dumuria and Fultala of Khulna district and Abhaynagar, Manirampur and Keshabpur upazilas of Jashore (then Jessore) district. Some distance away, another sluice gate of nine vents was set up.
At that time, the purpose of building sluice gates in this region was to protect the croplands of around 50 beels in the Bhabdaha area from flood waters and salinisation from incoming sea water.
But, only 20 years later, that sluice gate became the cause of the misery of the residents. The Hari River began to get filled up, and the sluice gates gradually became ineffective, over time coming to be known as the 'sorrow of Bhabdaha'.
Anamika Biswas, a housewife from Hatagachha village, said that there is water all around her house. They keep their cattle at home.
Although fish can be seen in the water around their house, they have no way to catch and eat it. However, influential people of the area are cultivating fish there in enclosures.
Irrigation pumps a 'loss project'
Talking to the locals, it was learned that irrigation activities are being carried out in a joint venture between BADC and BWDB to alleviate the permanent waterlogging of Bhabdaha. But despite investing lakhs of taka per month, the drainage of the irrigation pumps through the Bhabdaha sluice gate could not bring any benefits to the residents.
This initiative was implemented at the beginning of this year to grow crops in the adjoining beel areas and reduce the suffering of marooned people. However, the locals have compared this method to 'throwing stones in the sea'.
Earlier, the government undertook a project in 2012 at a cost of Tk 68 crore to alleviate the waterlogging in Bhabdaha. But that project did not work. A couple of years ago, the Water Development Board submitted a project proposal at a cost of Tk 800 crore, which is currently in the Planning Commission. Besides, an allocation of Tk 43 crore has been sought for drainage of water through irrigation pumps at present.
Abdullah Al Rashid, BADC's Jashore Region Supervising Engineer (Irrigation Department), said BADC provided 20 pumps of 30 hp (horsepower) to BWDB to grow crops and reduce human suffering in the region. A sub-engineer along with eight workers of BADC maintains it there round the clock. But BWDB was not aware of the leakage and did not take any action.
Tauhidul Islam, executive engineer of BWDB of Jashore, said that although 20 pumps were obtained from BADC, it was less than the demand. Therefore, DPP has been submitted to the ministry for allocation of Tk 43 crore for larger pumps.
"Besides, a project has been lying in the department concerned for allocation of around Tk 800 crore two years ago. That too was not approved," he added.
Satya Biswas, a resident of Beel Kedaria in Bhabdaha area, said that waterlogging occurred in Bhabdaha in the 1980's. "Today, even after 40 years, this waterlogging is expanding day by day. Only the influential people are benefited through these projects as they are looting government allocations," he said.
No alternative to dredging the Hari
The water in the beels cannot go anywhere because the river bed has filled up with silt. As a result, the water of these beels cannot recede properly causing immense suffering to the people.
In this regard, Narayan Chandra Chand, Member of Parliament for Khulna-5 (Dumuria-Fultala), that covers the region, questioned the feasibility of the irrigation project undertaken by Water Development Board and BADC. He said there is no alternative to dredging the Hari River anymore, including its tributaries, to alleviate the waterlogging of Bhabdaha.
The water of Bhabdaha flows through Hari River to the Bhadra, Ghangrail rivers and falls into Shipsa River before merging into the sea. So the embankment of the canal in Bhabdaha has to be removed and the Hari River needs to be dredged - that is the only option left that could work, the MP insists.