When the residents of Dhaka were celebrating the Bengali New Year, a 45-year old woman cried herself to death after her 2.5-acre rice field was washed away by flash floods in Bangladesh's haor region. Shockingly, even in this age of information, people in the rest of the country remain oblivious of the calamity in the north-eastern districts boasting haors full of plenty of sweet-water fish. Boro rice and eco-friendly tourism make the picture complete.
Last week, Mosammat Tarabanu suffered a cardiac arrest while weeping and passed away as she was unable to bear the shock. The wife of a physically-challenged farmer, Tarabanu had taken a loan just before the floods inundated most of her boro rice cultivation at Baniachong upazila in Habiganj district. Such dreadful news reflects Bangladesh's failure to equitably distribute the dividends of economic growth to its remotest constituencies.
Recently, flash floods caused devastation to standing crops, extensive damage to infrastructure and human sufferings. According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), boro crops have been totally damaged on 34,369 hectares of land in Sylhet; 10,277 hectares in Moulvibazar, 57,289 hectares in Sunamganj; 11,737 hectares in Hobiganj; 14,395 hectares in Netrakona; and 13,137 hectares in Kishoreganj. On the other hand, the DAE estimated a crop loss of Tk 20.53 billion. Thus, policymakers cannot sit idle on the existing problems of Bangladesh's flood-prone haors.
Although 40 per cent of its total annual grain production comes from rain-fed agriculture, Bangladesh still relies on Boro rice for its food security. It is beyond comprehension why the government is yet to encourage rain-based cultivation of Aman rice in haor areas. A well-planned delivery of high quality seeds, microcredit and effective management tools to farmers can maximise aman yields and reduce dependence on boro cultivation, allowing farmers to cultivate various crops like wheat, pulses and oil seeds in haor districts. Notwithstanding the daunting nature of the task, the government must adopt a strategy to counter flash floods and water stagnation in the haor region. Recently, agriculturalists made recommendation for a few water-resistant rice variants surviving three weeks of water inundation. Amidst such possible solutions, Bangladesh visibly lacks a pragmatic agrarian policy dealing with natural hazards in the haors like water stagnation, salinity or drought.
Furthermore, farmers in Sunamganj district have alleged that the crop loss has partly to do with irregularities and delays in the construction of dams by the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB). Rising riverbeds due to siltation has not helped the cause. In FY 2016, the BWDB received a budget of Tk 550 million to construct embankments and repair the existing ones in 48 haors across the district. The authorities took the project for granted as their contractors failed to maintain the schedule. Works began in February in place of January and hence the tasks remained incomplete when floods struck on March 28.
Since most paddy fields became inundated, local farmers are unable to feed their children let alone continue their education. Since insolvent farmers are being harassed for defaulting loans, steps must be taken to make it easy for locals seeking loans for farming. As 75 per cent of the boro cultivation in haor districts is wasted, the government must sell rice at Tk10 a kilogram to the haor residents and continue such assistance until next cultivating season.
Historically, agrarian communities of Bangladesh's haor region have been celebrating the Pahela Baishakh with much enthusiasm. However, this year's flash floods spoiled the occasion for them. Undoubtedly, it is not difficult to prevent further calamities in the haor region, if the government plays a pro-active role.