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The Financial Express
Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla

Grim battle for survival of haor people

| Updated: October 22, 2017 13:30:35


Grim battle for survival of haor people

Flash floods in the back swamps have wiped rice crop, causing a loss of 0.45 million tonnes of cereal. The government earlier projected the production of 19.1 million tonnes of rice in the current Boro season, as part of its goal of bagging 35.1 million tonnes in fiscal 2016-17. 
It is for the first time in many years that Bangladesh is poised for a less productive rice season owing to a huge loss of Boro crops. Following the first strike of flash flood in Sunamganj and a few other adjoining haor-rich districts, the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) estimated a crop loss of 0.60 million tonnes with Boro on 2,00,000 hectares gone under the water. 
With farmers struggling to recover a part of their crops in the hoar areas, rainfall and floods affected standing Boro in some districts in the northwest as well. The attack of fungal diseases in some fields has worsened the situation, dampening prospects for Boro paddy that accounts for about 55 per cent of the total annual supply of the staple at 34.7 million tonnes. 
With such a huge crop loss, rice prices have made a sudden jump in the kitchen markers across the country at a time when stocks at the public warehouses hit a six-year low. At this time of year, stocks from the previous harvest typically begin to dwindle and fresh paddy harvests come in from the haor regions in the northeast. 
There are allegations that the authorities concerned were very casual while building the embankments to stop the swelling waters from damaging huge croplands. Knowing fully well that the haor areas are vulnerable to flash floods, the government failed to give top priority to this aspect as food security is visibly the main issue.
Water experts say it is difficult to build embankments and prevent floods in the haor areas. The haors are water bodies controlled by nature. It thus needs careful planning for disaster management and how to alleviate the sufferings of the people living there. 
This time the floods have arrived unusually early. Had the embankment not broken and allowed the waters to enter slowly, then some of the semi-ripened crops could have been salvaged. But there were faults in the embankment repairs. The authorities allegedly failed to monitor the water surge. All responsible persons in the board and the ministry did not function properly. 
Besides, some top level haor development officials were on tour abroad during the disaster. No sustainable measures were taken for developing the haor region. The fund allocation for its development was insufficient. 
The poor haor people mainly take unofficial loans than the bank credit. The interest rate of such loans is too high. Although the government announced that the bank loans would be rescheduled, how would the people taking loans through unofficial channel repay? Thousands of people have lost everything. They will have to sell their land and homes, and migrate to the cities for living! 
A better coordination among government agencies, greater private sector involvement and preserving biodiversity and ecosystems are critical for developing the haor areas vulnerable to natural disasters, suggests a new report.
The report strongly recommended for leasing the haor water bodies to social organisations instead of lending those to the local influentials by revising the waterbody regulations, citing that continuous invasion by various interest groups are destroying ecological and biodiversity balance in haor areas.
The report also suggested for conducting a comprehensive survey on haor areas to assess the economic valuation of haor resources and rolling out new programmes to bring diversification of agricultural products to improve life and livelihoods of haor people.   
Alongside a coordinated plan, the haor people should be involved in the development process of the areas so that all residents can equally benefit from available resources. But the fact remains that the process is really a tough job.
The government had earlier formulated, according to a report, a master plan to ensure sustainable development in the haor areas. Under the plan, 17 special areas have been identified for development which will be implemented over a period of 20 years until 2032.
It is time for introducing a mobile-based early warning system as a test case in cooperation with the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) and local administration. A post-impact assessment of this initiative has showed that the customised voice message has turned out to be more useful than the text message since many people cannot understand text message. 
The agriculture minister, many years ago, had spoken about crop insurance which could not be introduced as yet. The haors do not face such disasters every year, perhaps once in every five to ten years. Why not such insurance makes a beginning from haor areas? It could have provided some form of security to the poor haor people.
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