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Dhaka Tribune

Sand intrusion damaging arable land in Haor basin

Update : 24 May 2014, 07:06 PM

The intrusion of sand brought by the downhill water from India has turned a vast tract of arable land in the country’s northeast Haor basin into barren land, resulting in the destruction of local ecology and depriving thousands of their livelihoods. 

According to the Sunamganj District Agricultural Extension office, at least 3,000 acres of arable land have gone under sand in the past six years, creating huge losses of agricultural production in the district.

The crisis was triggered on July 20, 2008, when a flash flood from the nearby West Khasi Hill of the Indian state of Meghalaya brought in a huge amount of sands and stone chips to the Tahirpur upazila in Sunamganj, destroying vast areas of arable land.

“Within a few minutes, the nearby ponds and wetlands filled up with sand and stone chips that day,” said 42-year-old local Rokon Uddin, who had experienced the flash flood.

More than 2,000 acres of agricultural land in three villages – Chanpur, Rojoni Line and Rajai – owned by local farmers and villagers disappeared in that single event which changed the area’s ecosystem and robbed thousands of their livelihoods.

Since then, unplanned mining in Meghalaya – one of India’s main source of mineral resources – has reportedly been causing a large amount of sand to get mixed with the downhill water that eventually flows into Bangladesh and ruins large areas of arable land every monsoon. Mass deforestation, caused by unplanned mining, had also caused the soil in the hills to become more vulnerable to landslides.

Ponchashol Haor, which locals said used to cover a large area of land near Chanpur village, has now vanished because of sand intrusion from the West Khashi Hills.

Andru Sholomar, a leader of the Khashia community in Rajai village who lost 20 acres of arable land to sand intrusion, told the Dhaka Tribune that over the past few years, he had failed to produce any crop on the land that previously produced harvests thrice a year.

He also claimed that he had lost three more acres of land in the past two weeks alone because of the sand brought in by the rain-triggered floods from the nearby hills in India.

Locals said the government was yet to take any initiative for saving the area’s ecology or removing the layers of sand by excavating or dredging.

Although local administration and the ministries concerned had previously exchanged letters on the matter, no effective initiative had been taken so far.

On November 24, 2008, the Environment Ministry issued a letter to the Foreign Ministry, asking them to inform the Indian counterpart about the issue.

On September 3, 2009, the Environment Ministry finally received a reply from the Foreign Ministry, which said the Indian government had been informed of the issue through the High Commission of India in Dhaka.

However, a joint secretary of the Environment Ministry, seeking anonymity, said: “The ministry is not aware of any such incident right now, as most of our present officers were not affiliated in the office during that time.”

Nurul Qadir, head of the ministry’s Environment Pollution section that is now handling the issue, told the Dhaka Tribune that the Environment Ministry would try to address the matter soon after locating the documents of previous communications.

The Foreign Ministry was now also ignoring the crisis.

“Currently the ministry is not giving priority on the issue at all, as it is an old issue,” said Tareq Md Ariful Islam, director of South Asian Desk of the Foreign Ministry told the Dhaka Tribune. The ministry could move forward with the issue if the local administration sent specific request again, he added.

Asked about the issue, Yamin Chowdhury, deputy commissioner of Sunamganj, admitted that they were yet to have any specific plan to solve the problem even though local administration had been informed of the crisis since the very beginning.

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