The land is green as far as the eye can see. A paved road lined with trees winds through swaying paddy fields. Groups of women meet to discuss maintenance and management of tube wells, a precious source of safe drinking water on the river island or Char. Farmers, fishermen, tailors and artisans ply their trade. Climate resilient markets, dykes and culverts guard against extreme weather. It's the closest thing to an island paradise that the people of the remote Chars of Noakhali can imagine.
But 20 years ago, this was a barren land, a mere sandbar in the mighty Meghna river. Char Nangunia and Noler Char are situated in Hatiya and Subarnachar areas of Noakhali district, where the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna rivers flow into the Bay of Bengal. Both Chars are home to tens of thousands of climate refugees who have found a sanctuary there after losing their homes to river erosion and other natural disasters.
Nurjahan Begum, 40, is a resident of Mohammadpur under Char Nangulia at Hatiya. A mother of 2 daughters and 2 sons, she has been working as a tailor for the last 4 years. She also cultivates vegetables in her homestead, earning as much as Tk 5 thousand a month. She is head of her household since her husband moved to Oman in search of work 7 months ago.
Nurjahan and her neighbours are beneficiaries of the Char Development and Settlement Project, co-financed by the Government of Bangladesh, the Government of the Netherlands and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which has transformed the Chars in the area.
Now in its fourth phase (CDSP IV), the project has been developing newly accreted land (Chars) in the coastal areas of Bangladesh since 2004. Under the CDSP project, farmers like Nurjahan were provided with extensive livelihood support, which enabled them to improve their standard of living.
“Previously we were living in Howla under Shukchar union of Hatiya Upazila, a separate island of Noakhali. We lost our homestead and agricultural land to river erosion in 2000. We shifted to Nangulia after losing everything as a climate change refugee,” said Nurjahan.
20 years ago, these river islands on Meghna river were barren lands. But now under the Development and Settlement Project, these mere sandbar lands have become lash green Courtesy
A tough start
Like Nurjahan many of the current residents migrated to Nagulia 10 to 20 years ago. Starting a new life on the sandbar in the vast river wasn't easy. The Chars were controlled by pirates who raided passing fishing boats and passenger vessels.
There was little or no access to safe water on the island. Livelihood options were limited to fishing or scraping together meager crops. The residents were at the mercy of storms and tidal surges.
Surma Begum migrated from Chanundiya, Hatiya due to river erosion. She told the Dhaka Tribune: “We have got 1.5 acres of land from the government as a landless family. We divided the land into four parts. One part is used as living quarters. This is surrounded by bean plants in winter and kakral in summer. We produce rice in around 10 decimal of land following scientific method. We have a fishing farm where a small pond is covered by the Chichinga plants following Serjon method. Another part is occupied by a shed for cows, goats, ducks and chicken.”
It means the total area of Surma's house is always surrounded by a green plantation. Like Surma, most of her neighbours follow a scientific method to cultivate vegetable and fishing with support and training from NGOs. The NGOs have introduced climate change resilient innovation such as salinity and flood-resistant crops, variable planting time, mulching and rain water harvesting technologies to combat global warming.
In the project area, a total of 268km road side plantation has been developed by Bangladesh Forest department as protection from climate change, under supervision of CDSP IV. A total of 233 culverts were constructed by the LGED Ministry as part of the climate change resilient infrastructure. Bangladesh Water Development Board has built climate resilient market sheds as protection from climate change.
To ensure sufficient participation of women and to empower them, CDSP has involved them in the field level institutions such as the farmers forum, water management group, social forestry group, etc.
The tube wells, a vital source of potable water, are managed by groups of women. Tube wells can usually be used by 15-18 families, who can share one tube well. This helps to provide them with safe drinking water and reduces the collection time as it is usually placed in close proximity to the users. Consisting solely of women, these groups receive general training on operation and maintenance of the tube well and get a toolkit for this purpose. They are also responsible for collecting contribution money from the participating families. So far 1,297 groups have been formed out of the project target of 1,454.
In the project area, a total of 268km road side plantation has been developed by Bangladesh Forest department as protection from climate change, under supervision of CDSP IV Courtesy
Working to transform the chars
The local people have been working to change their lives with the support of the government and local and international Non Government Organisations.
The government has been taken an initiative to develop the coastal islands aiming to reduce poverty and create employment with the name “Char development and Settlement project (CDSP)” since 1994.
Three phases of the CDSP project has already been implemeted in some coastal areas.
Currently, CDSP phase-4 is ongoing to develop five Chars--- Char Nangunia, Noler Char, Carring Char, Urir Char and Char Ziauddin. The fourth phase of the project started in March 2011 and is scheduled to be completed by 2018. During the final stage of the project this Dhaka Tribune reporter recently visited Char Nangunia and Noler Char.
The CDSP phase-4 project is co-financed by the Bangladesh government and the government of Netherlands and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD). Total cost of the project is Tk687cr whereas IFAD has been contributing around Tk3,64cr which is 53 percent of the total project cost.
The CDSP-4 project is executed by integrated work of six departments of the government with the support of four local NGOs.
Bazlul Karim, deputy team leader of the project, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The people of coastal area have won land, agricultural fields and necessary infrastructure. We hope that soon the Chars will no longer be poverty hotspots.”