SWELLING rivers have so far swallowed 1,113 acres of land in five flood-affected districts in the Rangpur division, destroying about 700 houses and displacing a few thousand people since the monsoon began. This points to the issue of river erosion and the government’s poor flood and river erosion risk management programme. Successive governments appear to have neglected the issue that affects the lives of thousands every year — river erosion leaves, as estimates say, about 50,000 people landless, displaces a higher number of people and erode about 10,000 hectares every year. Since mid-June, when rivers started swelling and eroding their banks, a few hundred families in Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Tangail and some other districts have lost their homesteads. The number of people affected by river erosion is predicted to increase in weeks as most of the rivers such as the Jamuna, the Padma, the Dharla and the Surma have breached the danger mark. In the absence of a proper rehabilitation and relief plan, these people are now faced with a doubly difficult situation as they have already been hit hard by the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Moreover, the usual pattern of migration to cities that river erosion victims usually take recourse to every year also appears to be a difficult choice now given that scores of the urban poor are already leaving cities because of a decline in their earning caused by the economic slowdown. Bangladesh cannot get rid of river erosion altogether. But a poor management of rivers, inadequacy and corruption in river erosion mitigation programme — which successive governments have so far undertaken spending a huge amount of money collected mostly from international lending agencies in loans for the prevention of river erosion and flood control — leaves thousands of people to the whims of the rivers. Negligence in constructing and maintaining proper and effective embankment in critical areas have largely added to the intensification of not only river erosion but also flooding, which has so far marooned more than a million and left more than dozen dead. With most of the major rivers flowing 1–3 metres above the danger mark, the number of flood affected people is also fast increasing.
In a difficult time like this, when COVID-19 and the consequent economic slowdown have drastically reduced the financial ability and purchasing capacity of millions, river erosion and an intensified flooding have put thousands in an extremely vulnerable condition. The government must immediately scale up its relief efforts to help the struggling thousands, many reportedly living under the sky, to survive. The government must also realise that sustainable and wide-scale river management and rehabilitation programmes are what can attend to the plight of millions.
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