Posted on January 31, 2024
This is the second part of a series on the pervasive impact of riverbank erosion on local communities, focusing on Islampur’s population of 350,000 as they grapple with the recurring challenges posed by life on the banks of the Jamuna and Brahmaputra rivers
Residents of Islampur continue to face the daily challenges posed by river erosion, with some individuals compelled to temporarily relocate. However, a majority of the community expresses a strong reluctance to permanently resettle in different areas.
According to Rahim Badsha, the chairman of the Goalerchar Union in Islampur, most displaced individuals return to char areas once the erosion subsides, especially those who lived in the vicinity. Even laborers who sought employment in the city often return.
The local land office is involved in the reclaiming of char areas, and government officials create land distribution maps based on relevant documents, with no reported conflicts in Badsha’s jurisdiction.
Badsha notes ongoing river dredging efforts, expressing hope that the erosion rate will decrease in the coming year.
Similarly, Abdus Salam, chairman of the Chinduli Union, shares optimism, reporting a lower erosion rate this year due to the absence of floods. Piling work from Gutiya Bazar to Uliya has mitigated erosion to some extent, but residents are advocating for a flood control embankment in the area.
In the piling area, approximately two kilometres of land have been raised, preventing floodwater from entering the region. Salam said there is successful farming in this area, with residents able to harvest crops three times. Over the last 3/4 years, 4-5 chars have emerged, and the local land office is gradually distributing these lands. Salam asserts that the construction of embankments will allow people to stay in their areas rather than seeking shelter far away.
Administrative measures to mitigate river erosion
Executive Engineer Md Rafiqul Islam of the Jamalpur Water Development Board reports ongoing efforts to prevent river erosion. Technologies used in other districts for erosion prevention are being implemented in Islampur and riverbank protection work is underway, including the review of conservation projects such as the IWM and CGIS’s integrated project. Dredging and river excavation are also integral components of the ongoing projects.
Islam highlights past initiatives under the Climate Change Trust Fund, detailing the implementation of river and riverbank protection projects in Islampur Upazila. The projects, with a total expenditure of BDT 487.35 lakh, aimed to save the rivers from erosion. Currently, riverbank conservation projects are actively progressing from the left bank of the Jamuna River to the Footani Bazar, covering a total length of 16.55 kilometres.
Displacement, poverty, and economic crises have plagued riverine Bangladesh for years. Nayeem Wahra, an environmental researcher and writer, pointed out the varied methods employed by local communities to protect their land before the construction of embankment projects.
Wahra notes that different riverside areas employ distinct techniques based on the strength of the people and the characteristics of the rivers. Methods include throwing stones, planting various plants like local morning glory and special grasses on riverbanks and embankments, and training newly emerged chars to manage river flow. Rituals such as Puja are performed in some places.
Continuous research on these methods is essential, and Wahra stresses the need to acknowledge that rivers in Bangladesh are still growing. Modern techniques for understanding rivers are evolving, and Bangladesh is advancing in this direction.
Wahra further said that a one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applied to all rivers, urging a nuanced understanding and nurturing of the country’s rivers.