CHAR areas, said to account for 10 per cent of the country’s total land spanning more than 100 upazilas in 32 districts, that are home to an estimated 10 million people, appear to be ‘forsaken places’, as discussants said at a national dialogue on char development and institutional structure that the National Char Alliance organised in Dhaka on Thursday. The discussants used the phrase as government officers are reluctant to go there and work while char areas remain the most vulnerable to natural disasters. In addition, they said, there have been budgetary allocation for the development of chars, yet the money remains unused, or misappropriated, as there is no authority to decide the nature of development activities that should be carried out on the chars. In a situation like this, it is hardly possible to lift the people living in chars out of extreme poverty and the vulnerabilities that they live with, which in turn only exposes the government’s general apathy towards poor people, more so to those living in chars. The discussants at the dialogue put forth a call, and rightly, for the establishment of an authority to decide, supervise and coordinate the development of char areas.
There have been budgetary allocations for the development of people living on chars after the 2015 financial year but allegations have it that not a single penny has been spent on the purpose. What remains worrisome is that neither the finance ministry nor the planning ministry knows, as the National Char Alliance says when it made inquires in this regard, how the money has been spent, which lends credence to the idea of misappropriation of the allocations. The people living on chars are left to live precariously in areas which are prone to erosion and flooding; they continue to face food scarcity and they often do not get healthcare services in their own areas. They have their livelihood, mostly composed of small-scale farming and fishing, interrupted because of flooding and are exposed to attacks by robbers during flooding. They are also mired in property ownership problems in the absence of proper legal documents. All this makes their living miserable. In view of what happens to them on a regular basis, the government should incorporate the issues of char development in the national development plan and designate, if an authority cannot be established, to initiate, supervise and coordinate the char development issues.
The government, under the circumstances, is well advised to come out of its slumber and immediately look into how the allocations that have been made in three national budgets have been spent. The government must also look into the allegation of misappropriation of the money and hold anyone found responsible for this to account. The government must also deal with the issues of healthcare facilities, education and disaster management mechanism for the char people and implement the plans so taken up with stringent oversight.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial