Haor people in Sunamganj face uncertain future

Dhaka,  Wed,  23 August 2017
Published : 17 Jun 2017, 23:02:34
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Haor people in Sunamganj face uncertain future

Food security, livelihood in jeopardy
Adnan Hossain Bhuiyan

Most people in Haor (wetland) areas of Sunamganj district are still in the dark about their future livelihood and food security even two months after the flash flood washed away their only cereal crop.

With no food in the barn and no employment opportunities in the region, many farmers are now passing lean season in utter frustration losing their Boro crop.

Boro used to ensure year-round food supply to the Haor people.

Usually, a large portion of Sunamganj district goes under water during monsoon creating around 250 Haors for almost half of the year.

But this time water swamped the vast one-season cropland 15-20 days earlier engulfing all the ready-to-harvest Boro crop.

Visiting Haor areas of Sunamganj a week ago, this correspondent found many flood victims migrating to large cities or towns in search of work as they don't have any alternative work opportunity in the region except catching fish.

However, marginal farmers and extreme poor are leaving their homes for menial jobs or catching fish in the wetlands while middle-class farmers, not habituated in labour-intensive works, have become the worst sufferers.

Besides, many farming families sold their livestock at half price to middlemen fearing possible food scarcity as they couldn't collect any straw for the cows due to untimely inundation.

A farmer Shanak Mia of Amirpur village, located at Uzan Dhal Haor, some 7/8 kilometres from Derai upazila, said after losing Boro crop, he also sold the only cow at Tk 15,000 which could be priced at Tk 30,000 in normal time.

Md Shahjahan, 40, a farmer from Chandipur village, located in Sharmangal Haor of Derai upazila, told a three-member visiting team of journalists that he along with his two brothers harvested 600-650 maunds (one maund equivalent to 40 kgs) of paddy last year from 13 acres of family land.

"One-third of our harvested paddy stored in the granary is enough to feed my large family consisting of 19 members the whole year. But, this year we couldn't even collect any paddy", he said.

He also has a trawler with a capacity of carrying 200 maunds of paddy at a time. During harvesting season in Haors, he along with his two brothers earn about Tk 0.5 million transporting other people's paddy to Derai upazila.

But, this year, no one is asking him to carry any paddy.

Shahjahan's two brothers Shah Kamal and Abul Khair have already migrated to Dhaka to work as temporary goods carriers in a garment factory.

At present, losing everything, the then solvent farmer and part-time oarsman has leased out his boat at Tk 800 per day to Brac Alor Dishari Secondary School established in 2014 in the middle of Sharmangal Haor.

Shahjahan now collects students of the school from different villages in the morning and takes them back home after school hours.

Talking to the FE, acting headmaster of the only secondary school in the region, Md Moin Uddin, said of the 335 students of the Brac school, 48 dropped out within a week of the devastating flashflood.

The scenario of the government primary schools in the area might even be worse, he said adding, "As the people in the area don't have food in the granary, they stop thinking about continuing their children's education. They rather migrate to other places in search of livelihood."

However, due to intervention of teachers, 33 of the dropouts returned to the school within a month.

One of them, Tofazzal Hossain, a six grader of the school who came to Dhaka with his father after the flood, said, "I stayed in the capital for 26 days to help my father in his soil-digging work."

Later, having calls from teachers of the school, he returned to the village and joined the school after one month.

According to the Sunamganj district administration, almost all the Boro crops planted on 161,000 hectare lands out of total 223,000 hectares in over 250 wetlands in Sunamganj were damaged in the flash flood caused by excessive rainfall and onrush of water coming from India.

The region has around 359,000 farming families of which around 325,000 have directly been affected by the flood allegedly caused because of faulty and weak embankment construction around the vast wetlands.

As per the Relief and Rehabilitation Department of Sunamganj, the Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) programme will cover 150,000 families in the district. Each cardholder will get 30kg rice and Tk 500 for a month under the government's 100-day programme until July 31.

Talking to the FE, Derai upazila chairman Hafizur Rahman Talukder said 16,500 families were selected for VGF cards in Derai while 50,000 families were directly affected by the flood.

Only 16,500 cards are not adequate to ensure food security of the affected people in the upazila, he said adding another 10,000 to 15,000 more VGF cards are needed to save the people.

Brac also distributed cattle feed to 3,000 farmers to prevent them from selling their livestock at lower prices to middlemen.

However, many of the affected farmers claimed that they haven't got any relief from the government or any other organisation after the flood.

A number of influential persons allegedly got those because of their intimacy with local public representatives.

Chittaranjan Talukder, a leader of 'Haor Bachao, Poribesh Bachao and Sunamganj Bachao' claimed that farmers of the district counted loss of around Tk 30 billion while the government is just talking about Tk 220 million corruption in repair of haor protection embankment.

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