For residents of Bangladeshi islands, rising sea levels and riverbank erosion are causing loss of homesteads and arable land. Photo: UNDP


The article was first published on BSS

It came as a major setback with nightmarish experience to sexagenarian Mosharraf Hossaion when he faced with the loss of homestead land, housing structure and arable land a few years back due to erosion of the mighty Meghna River. Like many affected people, loss of homestead forced Mosharraf to move to a new place without any option and put him in a disastrous situation.

His present state of life is filled with despair and uncertainty as he uttered “Once I had a happy family at Vendar Village of Sukh Char Union Parishad in Hatiya upazila of Noakhali district. But, riverbank erosion grabbed our home and all the belongings as Hatiya is located at the mouth of the Meghna River in the Bay of Bengal”.

The force of nature– river erosion– compelled Mosharraf to leave everything behind including homestead land, housing structure, crops, cattle, trees and household utensils as his family shifted to Aladia village of Burir Char Union of the same upazila and took shelter on an embankment near the sea.

“Not only Vendar Village, two other villages went under seawater compelled many people like us to be displaced,” Mosharraf said, adding their sufferings have increased manifold due to extreme weather events like tidal surge and cyclone every year since they live in very close to the sea.

Likewise, Nizam Maji also faced such a precarious condition as he was also displaced losing his homestead to seawater. He said displacement makes their lives miserable as they not only lost their house and belongings, but also lost their family roots after displacement, putting them in an uncertain future.

Internally displacement is a common phenomenon in Hatiya as a vast area of the island is being devoured by the riverbank erosion accelerated by sea level rise.

According to officials at Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), several hundreds of acres of arable land, many houses, markets, mosques, educational institutions, roads, cyclone shelters, and 14 kilometres of embankments of the island went under seawater in the last couple of years.

Erosion is also continuing to take place in many points of the Hatiya Island, putting many islanders at the risk of displacement.

Nizam Maji said after losing agricultural land and houses to the erosion, many families of Karingchar, Boyarchar and Nolerchar of the island left their areas and have taken refuge in cyclone shelters.

A 2016 Brac report says about 27 million people are predicted to be at risk of sea level rise in Bangladesh by 2050, while two-thirds of the country are less than five metres above sea level.

The affected people are confronting such perilous situations without any adequate institutional and structural supports and are devising their own formulated strategies to cope with the conditions. They are out to make efforts both physically and socially to survive with the situations by sea erosions.

RISING SEA LEVEL

The impacts of sea level rise on coastal regions are sudden and episodic hazards, indicating that global sea level rise will be a major challenge with severe implications on human civilisations.

Sea level is on the rise along the Bangladesh coast like other parts of the world. Official data shows sea level rise was observed at 5.73 mm per year at Char Changa station in Hatiya while Hiron point in the Sundarbans at 3.38 mm per year. The coastal areas along Patuakhali and Bhola districts and Hatiya Island are very high vulnerable due to sea level rise while the coastal areas along the Sundarbans and Barguna are high vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the coastal communities and islanders in Bangladesh have been realising that sea level is increasing here affecting their lives and livelihoods as recurrent extreme climate events hit them every year.

Dewan Hossain, a fisherman of Hatiya, said once seawater came near to the embankment when any cautionary signal hoisted ahead of cyclone, but now seawater reaches embankment of the island even during a normal tide, indicating that water level in the sea increases.

“Seawater was far away from our island in the past, but now I feel the sea is coming near us. One third land of our island went under seawater in the last 20-25 years,” observes Abdul Khaleque (45), a resident of Manpura Island in Bhola.

Now, he said, seawater enters the middle part of Manpura Island through canals affecting a vast tract of croplands. “Due to the sea level rise, salinity intrusion is damaging our croplands, putting our lives and livelihood in trouble,” Khaleque fears.

ADAPTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE

According to a new study of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), sea level rise will push nearly 140,000 coastal people to migrate to other locations within their district while about 60,000 will move to alternate districts.

With the rise of climate migrants, the Forest Department is distributing its fallow land surfaced outside the embankments of the islands to the landless, poor and displaced people on lease basis for 10 years.

The land is being distributed under the Integrating Community-based Adaptation into Afforestation and Reforestation Programme, jointly initiated by the Forest Department and the United Nation Development Program (UNDP).

Divisional forest officer Towhidul Islam said there are huge fallow lands of the forest department in the islands, which are at the jaw of encroachment by local musclemen.

If the land is leased to the vulnerable families, he said, it could be protected from encroachment as well as the poor families would be able to address their dire situation.

A total of 9 hectares of fallow land has so far distributed among 45 poor families in Hatiya upazila whereas 45 ponds were established on the land and each family got one pond to farm fish. Under the programme, fruit-bearing and timber tree saplings were distributed among the families to plant on their land. For creating livelihood options, they were also trained up on how to rear duck and cultivate vegetables on the banks of their ponds.

“I got a pond and a piece of land under the programme for 10 years. Now I am farming fish on the pond and cultivating vegetable on my land, and have started reaping benefits,” said Ferdousi living in Tanbazar area of Hatiya.

Ferdousi said she has already sold fish worth Taka 10,000 from her pond and hoped that she would be able to sell fish worth Taka one lakh within next three or four months.

Towhidul said the Forest Department allows the islanders to utilise its land for 10 years on lease and it is expected that the lease will be renewed based on the success of the programme.

The affected people are being denied safe water, sanitation and other basic needs that underscore the importance of taking up national level strategies to cope with the disasters being caused by the forces of nature.

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