Thousands homeless as rivers devour Bangladeshi villages

Caritas Khulna helps relief efforts as erosion swallows houses, markets, schools, mosques and temples
Thousands homeless as rivers devour Bangladeshi villages

A villager walks on a vulnerable village road due to erosion of the River Padma in Manikganj district in this 2013 file photo. Villagers have been left homeless and penniless by recent erosion. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com) 

The devastating erosion of several rivers continues to devour villages and leave thousands of people in central and southern Bangladesh homeless and penniless.

The Padma River, one of the country's four major rivers, has swallowed up more than a dozen villages in Shariatpur district in recent weeks.

Shariatpur officials say that more than 15,000 people from 5,081 families have lost their homes in the menacing erosion of the Padma, a tributary of the Ganges that flows through India and Bangladesh.

Among the worst-affected areas is Naria subdistrict, where more than 5,500 people have lost their homes.

"The situation is terrible. The river has swallowed houses, markets, clinics, mosques, temples and schools. People are homeless and penniless, and they are struggling to survive with food and other relief materials from the government," A.K.M. Ismail Haq, chairman of Naria subdistrict, told ucanews.com.

Haq said the government had opened some shelters for homeless people, while affected families are receiving relief includes cash handouts, rice and corrugated tin.

"We have requested higher authorities for 400 metric tons of rice and 10,000 bundles of tin to help about 10,000 victims. So far 5,000 people have received various forms of assistance," he said.

Haq said the Padma River had devoured about 10 kilometers of the district in past three years, and he blamed a serious lack of effort by previous local government officials in river control for the disaster.

"This year, a big project was passed for dredging the river and embankment construction, but it's too late. If the project was undertaken and approved five years ago, we could have avoided the disaster," he added.

Shaymol Pike, 30, a Hindu from Bashtola village in Naria, said he has been passing sleepless nights in fear of losing everything.

"The river is now 200 yards from my house, and it will simply disappear if the river continues to eat up what's in the way. I have already started moving our belongings to another place, and I don't know what to do when I become homeless," Pike told ucanews.com.

He also blamed a lack of initiatives for river control for the disaster. "I have seen river erosion since I was 15, and this year it seems the deadliest. Not much has been done to protect people," he said.

In southern Bangladesh, the erosion of the Pasur River, a distributary of the Bay of Bengal, continues to threaten hundreds of villagers.

In Kanai Nagar village under Chandpai Union of Mongla in Bagerhat district, 485 poor villagers from 145 families are worried they will lose their houses.

Caritas Khulna, which covers southern Bangladesh, has moved 10 families from the village to a safer place, according to acting regional director Daud Jibon Das.

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"We have various projects regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation but not directly linked to river erosion. However, we have funded relocation of some affected people and the reconstruction of houses in the new location," Das told ucanews.com.

River erosion is an old problem but is never addressed comprehensively, according to Ainun Nishat, a climate change expert.

"The Padma has been aggressively wiping out river communities since 2001. Now it has become a serious problem and this year it has been causing havoc at 272 points," Nishat, a professor emeritus at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, told ucanews.com.

"If you don't take measures for river study and control, dredging of riverbeds and construction of dams, disasters must happen. Technical and engineering efforts, after a proper cost analysis of losses to river erosion, can stop disasters."  

More than 300 rivers that empty into the Bay of Bengal crisscross low-lying Bangladesh and make it vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change impacts.

Since 1967, the Padma River has devoured more than 66,000 hectares of land, according to a report by the NASA Earth Observatory in August. 

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