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District - Health - February 7, 2023

Coastal people leaving motherland permanently

Lack of fresh water and jobs

Mahfuja Mukul: Majedul and Masura couple live with their three children in a small shack in Rathkhola Bill of Munjitpur area of Satkhira city. Majedul drives a van in Satkhira town. His wife works as a housekeeper in several houses in the city. The elder of the two sons works in a motor garage. Little boy and girl are studying in a city school. This is the current picture of this family.
But a few years ago, Majedul used to live in his ancestral house on the bank of Kapotaksh river in Pratapnagar village of Asashuniupazila of Satkhira. There were also several bighas of agricultural land with own houses. Farmer Majedul used to grow crops on that land. But after Cyclone Ampan, the embankment of the river broke and salt water entered their land. Due to water accumulation in that land for a long time, crops become unfit for cultivation.
As a result, he became unemployed.
As there is no alternative employment in the area, all the agricultural land is sold at a low price and migrated to the city. Even if he could not buy land in the main city, he bought two plots of land in the city. He is living there in a small house.
It is learned that there are many other families like them in the city who used to live in different villages in the coastal area of Satkhira, Bagerhat, Khulna, Barguna, Patuakhali and Bhola even a few years ago. But due to climate change, they were forced to leave their ancestral land and settle elsewhere due to lack of agriculture or alternative employment.
A large part of those who are unable to leave the area work as laborers in brick kilns and agricultural fields for about seven months of the year for low wages in various parts of the country in search of work. For this reason, besides natural disasters, many people are also blaming the unplanned shrimp farming by raising brackish water in the agricultural land.
Leaders, a private development organization in Shyamnagar, conducted a survey in this regard in 2019.
According to the data of the survey, only due to climate change, breaking of dams for cyclones and tidal water, saline water has entered the locality in the last decade, hundreds of villages in eight unions of two upazilas of Satkhira have made hundreds of thousands of bighas of crop land unusable for crop production and the source of fresh water has been permanently damaged. Thousands of families from these areas have settled permanently elsewhere.
Not only that, three lakh people stay in brickyards in different parts of the country for about seven months of the year for temporary work. Many are living in different slums of Khulna, Dhaka and Chittagong. Many go to the north to work as agricultural labourers.
According to the information of another international organization, many Bangladeshis are also staying in the neighboring countries because of the border districts.
Mukul Gazi is a resident of Taltala village of Pratapnagar union of Asashuniupazila of Satkhira. He told, “After Cyclone Ampan, the embankments of Kapotaksh and Kholpetua rivers broke and salt water entered the locality. Later it took about 11 months to repair the dam. Due to the presence of brackish water for a long time, the cropland here no longer produces crops. There are also many influential people who cultivate shrimp by bringing brackish water to the agricultural land. Due to these reasons environmental disaster has occurred in the area. Crops are not grown here like before.
Shariful Islam, farmer of Munshiganj village of Shyamnagarupazila, said, “There is no opportunity for farming here. As a result, those who were involved in agriculture in their families are now unemployed. Many are leaving the area and moving elsewhere.
Talked with Ashiqur Rahman, a resident of Sora village of Gabura union of the same upazila. He told that after Cyclone Iyla in 2019, Sidor, Mahasen, Fani, Bulbul, Ampan and lastly Yas, the lives of the people in the coastal areas of Satkhira have been disrupted. Many once-domestic families in Gabura Union have lost their land and wealth and become impoverished. Unable to survive one disaster after another, many have left the area. Many are trying to leave.
The people here are amazing. Because even though there is water all around here, not even a pitcher of fresh drinking water is available. One has to walk for miles to collect water. You have to use salt water for daily activities including bathing. Almost every person here is affected by various skin diseases. Due to the use of brackish water, the women here are suffering from various complex diseases including uterine cancer at a young age, he added.
Gabura union chairman MasudulAlam told, “My union’s biggest problem is not having a sustainable embankment.” The river surrounds this union. People here live in fear when disaster strikes. Just because there is no dam, many people of the union are living in other areas.
He also said that the government has recently taken an initiative to build a sustainable embankment here. Once its construction is completed, my union will be somewhat disaster-free.
Gazi Al Imran, a development worker working in a non-governmental organization in Shyamnagar, told that the people of the south-western region are constantly facing various challenges due to climate change. In addition to the frequent natural disasters in the area, constant increase in salinity, decrease in the amount of agricultural land, access of local people to the Sundarbans and natural water bodies has been cut off, people have lost their jobs. Due to these reasons, the people of this region are constantly migrating in search of work.
Mohan Kumar Mondal, executive director of the private development organization Leaders, blames climate change for the damage to these towns in Satkhira.
He told that no major projects have been undertaken for the people of the region with the financing of the Climate Fund.
Urging the local government and administration to be more proactive in resolving the crisis, Mohan Kumar Mandal said, construction of sustainable embankments, expansion of salt tolerant varieties of rice and vegetables and alternative employment should be arranged in the region. Otherwise, many more people will be forced to move permanently from here.
However, the local administration does not agree with the demands of private organizations. In this regard, ShyamnagarUpazilaNirbahi Officer (UNO) Akhter Hossain said that various projects have been taken by the government to eliminate the shortage of fresh water in coastal areas and create new employment. Initiatives have been taken to construct several new cyclone shelters and Mujib Fort in vulnerable coastal areas.
A project has been approved at a cost of Tk 1000 crore for construction of sustainable embankment around Gabura union of Shyamnagarupazila. Work has already started on a part of that area. He commented that the image of Gabura will change after the construction of sustainable embankment is completed.
In this regard, Satkhira Deputy Commissioner Humayun Kabir told that the government has taken various initiatives to protect the people of Satkhira coastal area from natural disasters. These activities will be increased in the future.

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