Bhashan Char, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal that falls under Hatiya upazila of Noakhali, has been designated as the rehabilitation zone for the Rohingya refugees. The island is 72km from Noakhali Sadar, and 20km from Hatiya.
There are still some concerns that the island is practically uninhabitable as, during full moon, most of the island is flooded during the high tide.
Local fishermen say that during a normal high tide, around two-thirds of the island is submerged, and that the tide rises up to eight feet during a full moon.
“We have been coming here to fish for four to five years,” local fisherman Riaz Uddin told the Bangla Tribune. “The island is low compared to other nearby islands, and gets inundated frequently during new moon. This place is practically uninhabitable.”
There are around six or seven shepherds who stay on the island to tend to their cattle, but even they leave the island during full moon because of the tide.
However, Noakhali Deputy Commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder and Hatiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Khandaker Md Rezaul Karim have issued assurances that the island can be made habitable with modern technology.
We left for Bhasan Char from Hatiya’s Nalchira Ghat on October 4. The boatman and his crew accompanied us in our two-and-a-half-hour journey to the remote island.
We saw small buildings under construction near the docks. We also found a rest house and a helipad. But the official in charge refused to comment on the rehabilitation project.
Several members of the Bangladesh Navy, on condition of anonymity, said the construction work had been started on relatively high ground as the high tide inundates most of the island.
Also Read- How habitable is Bhasan Char?
We decided to inspect the area during high tide, and saw for ourselves what happens. Except for a few areas, the island becomes submerged in seawater; in some places the water is knee-deep, while in other places it goes up to the waist.
The Coastal Forest Division in Noakhali inspected Bhashan Char on February 6 - soon after the government made its announcement on Rohingya rehabilitation - and submitted a report on the island to the government thereafter.
The report clearly states that the island gets flooded frequently during the high tide and “is simply not habitable for people”. It says the island is vulnerable to storms and is currently suffering erosion in the northern and western shores. There are no sources of potable water and no crops grow there, the report revealed.
Talking to the Bangla Tribune, Noakhali Coastal Forest Division official Md Tohidul Islam gave his own experience of Bhashan Char.
“The island suffers from serious flooding during high tides. We visited the island only a few days ago. We took photos near a signboard placed on a relatively high ground. During high tide, that area, too, went underwater,” he said.
The prime minister’s military secretary, Major General Mohammad Zainul Abedin, was the next to inspect Bhasan Char, on February 8.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal also paid a visit to the island on September 28; locals said during Kamal's visit, the island was mostly underwater.
Bhashan Char only surfaced in the Bay of Bengal around 25 year ago, but it remained barren for over two decades as it was uninhabitable.
“To make Bhashan Char habitable, extensive development measures such as construction of an embankment, storm shelters, police camps and supply of potable water must the taken,” said local lawmaker Ayesha Ferdous.
Noakhali Deputy Commissioner Md Mahbub Alam Talukder said his administration was aware of the flooding issue.
“The government surely has a plan to make the island habitable, before rehabilitating the Rohingya there,” he said.
“We will follow the government directive. If the government gives the order, we will go forward with the rehabilitation programme; if it does not, we will stop.”
Mahbub Alam said there are plans to build an embankment around two metres high and 13km wide around Bhashan Char, under the supervision of Bangladesh Navy. “When complete, the embankment will prevent high tides from inundating the island,” he said.
The deputy commissioner said the government would move forward with the rehabilitation of the Rohingya only after the island was turned habitable.
This article was first published on the Bangla Tribune