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The tough life of char dwellers

  • Published at 11:30 pm February 27th, 2020
Jamuna-River-Sirajgonj
Climate change would affect char dwellers and people living in coastal areas the most with the increase in floods, cyclones and rise in sea levels Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The fate of other char dwellers living across the country is more or less the same as 70% of them rely on agriculture alone for their livelihood

Natural calamities and lack of employment are two of the main factors holding char people back from participating in mainstream life.

These two factors are also hindering their chances of a better livelihood, education, sanitation, and healthcare. 

Abdul Bari, 35, who lived in Purar Char, a char on the Brahmaputra river in Jatrapur union of Kurigram Sadar upazila, had the misfortune of experiencing river erosion not once, not twice, but 10 times. 

Mentioning that he only earns Tk6,000 - Tk7,000 per month to feed a family of three children, his wife and mother, Bari said: "I was 11 when I witnessed our home being devoured by the river for the very first time. Now I am waiting for it to happen for the 11th time. Due to this I was forced to shift my house on multiple occasions. Providing for my family is a daily struggle for me.

"Though I am a farmer, I also teach at a local private community school and so my children are being able to continue their studies. But those who are illiterate and earn less than me are suffering even more. We [char dwellers] are in a never ending fight for survival."

The fate of other char dwellers living across the country is more or less the same as 70% of them rely on agriculture alone for their livelihood.

Experts say that char people require special arrangements to cope with the adverse effects of climate change and also urged the authorities concerned to form a designated foundation and a national policy for the development of this ill-fated segment of the population. 

Commenting on the issue, Habibun Nahar, deputy minister of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said: "The life of char dwellers is totally different from those who live on the mainland. We have visited these lands to know more about the people who live there, to learn about their survival strategies and also to understand the effects of climate change on their lives. Char dwellers have their own way of adapting to the changes. We are working towards the development of these people."  

There are 109 char upazilas, both coastal and river chars, in 32 districts across Bangladesh. 

According to the "Bangladesh Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2016," 26% of households in the coastal char lands earn less than Tk7,000 per month, and 24.1% in the river char areas, while that figure stands at 22.6% nationally.

More than half of the children living in char areas of the country are deprived of primary education. Only 21.4% of people living in coastal char areas have access to electricity.

Adding to the misery, merely 33.6% of the households have proper sanitation in the coastal chars, and 31.3% in the river chars.  

Access to clean drinking water and healthcare are other major battles that char dwellers have to fight for every day.

According to research conducted by Unnayan Shamannay, a non profit and non government research organization, a student living on the mainland, on average, has to go 0.92km to get to a primary school and 1.7km for a high school. Whereas, a child living in char areas has to travel 2.5km and 5.5km respectively to get the same educational opportunities.

Jahid Islam, member secretary of National Char Alliance (NCA), an advocacy platform comprising over 50 organisations working for the rights of char dwellers, said: "Due to the lack of a designated organization, government allocation of funds for the development of char people goes unused. A foundation is needed to properly utilize  money for the integrated progress of char dwellers.

"It is not possible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) leaving char people behind. We need a national policy for the development of chars and people living there, immediately."