A local teacher said: 'We, the people, can do a lot of things when we work together voluntarily.'
How do you start discussing waterlogging? It is such an everyday issue in the monsoon that it is arduous to find a place to start. Unfortunately, this calamity has become an integral part of our lives.
Over a dozen villages in Abhaynagar upazila in Jessore remained submerged even after it stopped raining. Even though there were canals and ponds aplenty, the water refused to recede. The reason behind the waterlogging? Water hyacinths.
In some places the water was waist-high; in others, it was knee-deep. Life had become unbearable and the Water Development Board did not appear to be doing enough to mitigate the disaster unfolding.
That is when the local upazila nirbahi officer (UNO) stepped in.
UNO Mondip Gharai is well-known for his practical, hands-on approach to troubleshooting. He has a reputation for using social media to expedite work.
On July 30, he wrote on his Facebook wall:
“This is a call to the young and the able of Abhaynagar. Water hyacinth weeds have become rampant in our locality and causing immeasurable discomfort. I have fought man-made barriers on waterbodies. But the water hyacinths are too much for me to handle alone. Can we not combat this challenge together? 200 people, two unions, two days. Participants have to know how to swim, and possess the physical fitness and willingness to work in the water all day. The campaign will take place over Friday and Saturday (August 3-4). The volunteers will have lunch together. All participants will be issued a certificate by the upazila administration. “Those who are interested are requested to complete their registration with the upazila council by Thursday.”
To get rid of the weed, together we swim
On Friday morning around 11am, hundreds of people showed up to take part. Even more showed up to see the grand endeavour and to cheer on the volunteers.
Within a few hours, volunteers had managed to salvage the canals to a large extent. The hyacinths were piled high on the shore.
The audience were not merely standing idle. Many had brought in drinking water in jugs and pots, some brought “muri-chanachur.” Many were seen carrying mixtures of oil and mustard oil – a concoction that, when applied onto the skin prevents irritation caused by water.
Dip Haldar, a student at Nowapara Model College, was resting after exhausting himself for nearly three hours. During his brief break, he said the UNO himself had waded into the water and took part.
“He spent some time pulling out the weeds with us. Then he got out to go to the next clean-up point,” he said.
He also said: “Sundari, Gobindpur, Soradanga, Bhatbila, Arpara, Rajapur, Danga Moshiahati, Dhopapara, Bareda, Ramsara, Harishpur, Dahar Moshiahati and other surrounding villages are all under water. Schools and colleges alike are closed. We need to clear out the hyacinths.”
Locals expressed their satisfaction and pleasure at being a part of an organic social activity which was beneficial for everyone. In spite of the accolades, many did have grievances against the government.
A local teacher said: “We, the people, can do a lot of things when we work together voluntarily. But we cannot do that every time. There are things which are the government’s responsibility. They have to act for a permanent solution.”
Another local alleged that the government had allocated Tk3.5lakh to the Water Development Board to eliminate the weeds.
“We want to know what happened to the money.”
UNO Mondip told the Dhaka Tribune that there are two ways to combat waterlogging in the region. One is instantaneous and the other permanent, and he opted for the former for quick relief.
He said: “All I did was call upon 200 young men, 1,235 people had registered and 2,000 people showed up to get in the water. I thought the youth were obsessed with other things. But this campaign proved me wrong.
“The canals are about 16km long. We have salvaged around 12km. We shall have another 6km done by Saturday evening.”
When asked about the Water Development Board allocation, he said he had contacted local authorities who have yet to respond to him.