Land area not assessed since independence

Govt ignores land reclamation potential in Meghna estuary, sea

Mahamudul Hasan

Locations of cross-dams studies suggested along Sandwip, Urirchar and Jahajer Char in the Bay that could reclaim about 1,000 sq km of land in 30–35 years.  — IWM

Locations of cross-dams studies suggested along Sandwip, Urirchar and Jahajer Char in the Bay that could reclaim about 1,000 sq km of land in 30–35 years.

Successive governments have neither assessed Bangladesh’s land area with the accretion of islands in the Meghna estuary and the sea nor implemented recommendations of various studies on land reclamation since independence in 1971.
Bangladesh officially has 147,570 square kilometres of area that it inherited through the partition of India 1947 but there are confusions as most of the local and international researchers, New Age has found, refer to 144,000 square kilometres as the area of Bangladesh in documents.
Experts said the gross gain of land in the Meghna estuary and the sea was bigger in size than the gross land loss taking place over 50 years but the accrued land had not been officially added to the land area of Bangladesh.
They said that Bangladesh, which has the highest population density in the world with more than 1000 individuals per 1 square kilometre, has huge potential for reclamation of several thousand square kilometres of land in the Meghna estuary and the sea by physical intervention of sediments coming from upstream the Ganges-Brahmaputra and the Meghna Basin.
A comparison of Landsat images taken in 1984 and 2007 showed a net land gain of 451 square kilometres in the Meghna estuary in the period, accounting for an average annual growth rate of 19.6 square kilometres.
Maminul Haque Sarker, deputy executive director of the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services, told New Age that Bangladesh gained 1,650 square kilometres of land in the Meghna estuary between 1973 and 2008 and it had lost 1,050 square kilometres to erosion in the estuary in the period.
‘The gross gain of land in the Meghna estuary is 1,700 square kilometres counted from 1950,’ he said adding that about 90,000 hectares of land had eroded and 16,000 hectares accrued in the Jamuna while 36,000 hectares eroded and 10,000 hectares accrued in the Padma between Chadpur and Paturia.
Malik Fida A Khan, director (climate changes study division) of the CEGIS, said that a vast expanse of ‘inter-tidal’ area in the Meghna estuary and the bordering sea could be noticed and the inter-tidal area could be reclaimed by accelerating the accretion process.
A vast land mass in the Meghna estuary, including of Jahajer char, which is bigger than Urirchar, has not been added to Bangladesh’s land area, he said.
Md Shahidul Islam, a professor of geography and environment in Dhaka University, said that they had for long been demanding the establishment of a ‘national atlas commission’ to update the land area map as Bangladesh was gaining and simultaneously losing land.
Malik Fida said that the government should carry out a detailed study to assess the present land area and reclaim land in the coastal area.
‘A number of studies have been carried out and recommendations have been made for land reclamation since 1978 but we could not implement the recommendations,’ he said adding that the government should reclaim the land in long-term economic interest.
Zahir-ul Haque Khan, director (coast, ports and estuary management division) of the Institute of Water Modelling, said that Bangladesh has huge potential for land reclamation as every year, more than 1 billion tonnes of sediment flow into the Bay of Bengal from the upstream of the Ganges-Brahmaputra and the Meghna Basin.
‘In our study, we have found that initiatives to implement intervention such as cross-dams, sediment trapping and other means could help to reclaim about 1,000 square kilometres of land in 30–35 years in the Meghna estuary without any adverse impact on the environment, erosion and drainage congestion,’ he added.
Zahir, also the team leader of a Dutch-funded land reclamation study conducted in 2009–2010, said that they had recommended building cross-dams between Urirchar and Char Clarke in Noakhali, Jahajer Char and Char Baizid in Noakhali and between Sandwip and Jahajer Char as the three cross-dams were technically feasible and could reclaim a considerable land area in the east and north Sandwip Island.
He said that Bangladesh had already reclaimed about 1,000 square kilometres of land over years only in the Meghna estuary after building a cross-dam on a dying tributary of the River Meghna in Noakhali in 1957 and between Char Jabbar and the Noakhali mainland in 1964.
Bangladesh Water Development Board officials said that a number of feasibility studies under different projects such as the Netherlands-funded Land Reclamation Project (1977–1991), the Meghna Estuary Study (1995–2002), the Estuary Development Programme (2007–2011) were carried out. The studies made a number of recommendations including commissioning cross-dams for land mass reclamation in the Meghna estuary and connecting Sandwip Island and other chars to the main land.
No significant studies were, however, carried out on the Bay and the coastal belts of Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar and Khulna regions where there is huge potential for land reclamation as was done in Singapore, the Maldives and the Netherlands, they said.
A high water development board official said that a BWDB task force the water resources ministry set up in 2002 after examining different feasibility study reports and field visits recommended building 19 cross-dams along Sandwip, Urirchar and Noakhali and Hatia and Nijhum Dwip on a priority basis to accelerate land accretion in the coast. The cross-dams were recommended to be built in seven years. The task force recommendations have been shelved since then, he said.
The Awami League-led government, however, took up the Sandwip-Urirchar Cross-Dam Project involving Tk 683.243 crore in January 2011 as part of its electoral pledge made to people of Sandwip, but the government did not proceed with the project.
The government took up another project in 2013 to building only the Noakhali-Urirchar cross-dam under the climate change resilient fund of the World Bank. If the cross-dam project is implemented, 10,000 hectares of land could be reclaimed in seven years, the project coordinator, Md Sarafat Hossain Khan, said.

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