Life had been good for Romela Begum until the 45-year-old had to stand in line for cheap rice. While the mother of five from Bishshambharpur upazila of Sunamganj was waiting in queue at one of the OMS points, she had her first brush with nepotism.
The government undertook open market sales (OMS) of cheap staples at a number of points across the district to provide relief to those affected by the sudden floods.
Romela Begum is one such victim.
“I have been coming here for four days for rice and flour but the vendors only sell to people they are close to,” she said.
Like most of her neighbours, and indeed others across the district, Romela felt the loss of the paddy which was now submerged. It would have sustained them for the year.
Romela’s unease and embarrassment was evident, yet the middle-aged woman was desperate for the cheap OMS food because she feared her family would otherwise starve because of the flooding.
The OMS points sell rice at Tk15-17 per kg which is around Tk38 in the open market.
“I would not have been here if the paddy fields were there,” she said.
Romela was not alone. Many others had also lined up for the first time.
Mala Rani Biswas came with her 11-month-old son Pallab in her arms.
“I feel embarrassed but I have to do this,” said Mala, adding: “it is obvious that the coming days will be hard.”
“We have lost our crop and now we must wait another year to recover the losses.”
Mokbul Motubbor’s fear and grief were apparent in his eyes as he snipped handfuls of half ripe paddy at Shonir Haor on Sunday. This haor – large water body that collects water in the monsoon – was the last one standing among the 42 haors in Sunamganj. The sudden flash flooding in the area had caused the water to surge over the embankment, which inundated acre after acre of standing crop – all 22 square-kilometres of it.
Mokbul will be among the hardest hit. He had 40 acres of paddy, all of which he is likely to lose. He could not stand by and watch his crop get destroyed by the flood in front of his eyes, so he is now doing whatever he can to save his crop.
Given the apprehension of impending hardship across the haor regions of Bangladesh’s north and north east – Netrakona, Sunamganj, Brahmanbaria, Moulvibazar, Habignaj and Sylhet – the government has already decided to start selling cheap staples at more OMS points than before. It is estimated that the floods have destroyed 600,000 hectares of paddy.
Although the area is prone to such flash flood in late April and May, the waters have been early this year because of unusual rainfall in Cherapunji upstream. The timing has been rather bad as the crop would have been ready for harvest in just about a week.
Bangladesh produces 34 million tonnes of rice, of which Boro accounts for 19 million and the haor region accounts for about the fifth of the Boro acreage of 4.7 million hectares.