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Incomplete dams threaten Sunamganj haor farmers

Rains and untimely floods usually start to occur in this region since March

The farmers of Sunamganj, an area having many haors (wetland ecosystems), are worried as the construction of embankments to protect boro crops from untimely rainfall and floods in March has not finished as yet.

To protect the area from floods, embankment construction started on 15 December last year and it was supposed to be completed by the end of February this year.

Muqaddas Ali, a farmer of Nalua Haorpar area, said, “The month of February is gone but still the work of earth-filling for constructing the dam has not started. It will take another month to complete the work. This makes me worried about our crops as rain and untimely floods usually start in March in this region.”

A recent survey supervised by Mizanur Rahman, a professor of environmental science at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, and Kasmir Reza, president of Haor and Environment Development Organisation, found that only 68% of the embankment construction has been completed so far.

Kasmir Reza said, “The earth-filling work has not been completed in many dams yet. The work of soil compaction and grass planting has been done for only a small number of dams so far.”

“Besides, according to the regulations, the soil for the embankments was supposed to be brought 50 metres away from it, but in 35% of the cases, this rule was not followed,” he added.

An organisation called “Haor Bachao Andolan (Save the Haors Movement)” recently held a human chain in Tahirpur upazila of Sunamganj, expressing its concerns over boro crop as the construction of the embankments was not completed on time.

Hossain Sharif Biplob, member secretary of the organisation, demanded that those responsible for the negligence in dam construction be brought to justice.

However, the Water Development Board, which is in charge of constructing the dams, has claimed that 85% of the work has been done so far and it will be completed by 10 March.

“Earth-filling is almost finished. Currently, the work of planting grass and soil compaction is going on. There is no reason for the farmers to be worried as the dams will be completed before the rain starts,” said Md Shamsuddoha, the executive engineer of the Water Development Board, Sunamganj.

“The work is being prolonged due to the delay in receding the water of the haors, rains and union parishad elections,” he added.

In 2017, boro crops in 1.61 lakh hectares of land in the haor area were damaged by an untimely flood, according to the government estimation.

However, the farmers claimed that the amount of the loss was almost double and raised allegations of irregularities and corruption in dam construction.

After that, the system of hiring contractors for building the dams was cancelled, and Project Implementation Committees (PICs) comprised of administrative officials, farmers and local beneficiaries were created to do it.

However, problems regarding dam construction are still there. Initially, 25% of the money allocated for building the embankments is given to the PICs and the rest of the amount is given at the end of the work. But most of the PIC members are local farmers, who do not have the ability to spend money for the dams from their own pockets. As a result, the work slows down.

Sadikur Rahman, president of Project No-6 at Nalua Haor in Jagannathpur upazila, said he could not complete the work on time as he did not receive the money on time.

“The total cost of the project had been estimated at Tk15.77 lakh, but so far I have received only Tk3.5 lakh. Now I have been carrying the construction expenses by borrowing money,” said Sadikur.

According to the Water Development Board, around 532 kilometres of embankments are supposed to be constructed at a cost of Tk724 crore through 724 PICs.

Md Raihan Kabir, Tahirpur upazila nirbahi officer and also the president of the Upazila PIC, said, “We are supervising the construction of the dams round the clock. We have instructed the people responsible to finish the work quickly. No irregularities will be tolerated in this regard.”

Kasmir Reza, president of Haor and Environment Development Organisation, said instead of building embankments every year, it is necessary to excavate rivers upstream