THE ecosystem of the haors and wetlands in Bangladesh’s north-east plays a vital role in ensuring food security and keeping the environmental balance. People in this region are, however, impoverished and deprived of development benefits. A survey that the Human Development Research Centre conducted blamed the one-sided and faulty development programmes for economic realities in the region. People in the region account for 2 per cent of the gross domestic product, yet 28.5 per cent, or about two crore, of the haor people are unemployed. Fishermen get barely 25 per cent of the income generated from fish resources in haor, as the survey says, with the rest going to middlemen and others. The everyday fishermen could never participate in the haor’s leasing because of the influence of politicians, rent-seekers and corruption of government officers. The survey finds a case of illegal occupation of wetland of 5,000 acres when the lease was given for only 500 acres at Nikli in Kishoreganj. Recurring flash flood and the use of pesticide for boro farming have also affected the livelihood of fishermen. An ecologically sound and inclusive development programme is, therefore, needed for the area. People’s right to fishing historically remains crucial for their economic survival in the region.
They have been fighting for their right to fishing in natural water bodies since the 1980s, with boro being the only crop of this region. After farmers take their harvest home, in the monsoons, the majority of the working class people in haor earn their bread from fishing. However, over the years, the government has legally prohibited fishing in flood water that deeply affects their livelihood. Besides, the leasing process excludes them as illustrated in the survey. While it is important to regulate economic activities in the wetland having its unique ecosystem, the issue of people’s livelihood must be addressed with alternatives. In order to do so, local people and researchers have suggested including traditional socio-economic system into the development models that maintains a careful balance between the nature and economy. Instead, the zone has only seen mass dispossession and illegal control of wetland. Ecologically-insensitive development of the tourism industry and agricultural practice coupled with corruption in embankment construction turned development process an economic nightmare for people. Fault lines of such development plans became evident during the flash flood of 2017 when defective embankment failed to protect boro harvest and flood water, allegedly poisoned with pesticide, killed fish — a disaster that left the people with no economic choices but to look for relief supplies. The relief programmes was also rife with corruption as widespread allegations are that vested interests, including food officers, the police and dealers, steal food stock allocated for people in economic distress and retail it for profits.
It is, therefore, time that the government reviewed the existing development plans for the region and addressed the issues of economic disparity, ecological integrity and corruption in programmes.
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