Farmers in the Haor region of Bangladesh face losses due to too much or too little rain and early flooding. As a result, the once prosperous haor life is now disappearing writes Poli Rani Debnath.
Moulvibazar district in Bangladesh is known as the land of tea. It is also famous for haors (wetlands), namely Hakaluki, Kauwa Dighi, and Hail. Once, their surrounding areas were rich in nature, with the chirpings of birds filling the air and eastern winds swaying the vast paddy fields. Often, dinghies cut through the clear, still waters of the haors, with the boatmen singing songs from the heart.
But the wetlands of abundance are losing their charm. The local people, whose livelihoods depended on the haors, are now constantly battling various adversities. Almost every year, farmers face losses due to too much or too little rain and early flooding. As a result, the once prosperous haor life is now disappearing.
The haors were popular tourist spots for their biodiversity and natural beauty. But that attraction is being lost day by day. The once abundant Hijal and tamal trees, reeds and other aquatic plants are now endangered as villagers cut their branches for fuel. There is a local saying: "Fish and rice are the lifeblood of the haors."
The wetlands used to be home to many indigenous fish species, which are becoming extinct. The haors were a sanctuary for different kinds of resident and migratory birds, including some rare species that could be seen in winter. But their numbers are dwindling, mostly due to loss of habitat and shortage of food. Pesticides used in crops seep into the haor waters, killing fish and the birds that feed on them. As a result, the wetlands are getting polluted, and the environment of the region is being damaged.
According to local villagers, effective steps are needed to maintain environmental balance and protect the biodiversity of the haors. "Large trees don't grow here like before. Rice seedbeds are infested by insects due to lack of algae and grass in the water," said Moshahid Mia, a resident of Kauwa Dighi's Haor. Another local, Jalal Mia, said lessees irrigate their fish farms during the dry season that deplete the haors of water and prevent mother fishes from laying eggs.
Early floods are not a new phenomenon in the haors. Almost every year, ripe paddy is washed away by the floods; the rotten rice plants pollute the haor waters. Many canals and streams in the area are silted from lack of dredging, while ponds are filled up. This disrupts the natural breeding of local fish in the water bodies and the growth of aquatic plants, such as water lilies and water spinach.
Akmal Hossain Nipu, Moulvibazar correspondent of Prothom Alo newspaper, said aquatic flora and fauna are losing their habitat mostly due to landfilling of the wetlands. "Once, there were many turtles in the haors, but we can hardly see them now," he said. "The canals and ponds have to be dredged to revive aquatic plants. The biodiversity of the haors must be protected with the joint efforts of all, this can be done through creating awareness among the people."
The environment is ours; it is also our responsibility to protect it. But our mistakes are continually damaging the environment. If programs, such as development of tourism and dredging of canals, are taken up in the haor region, not only will they benefit the local people, but the country's economy will advance too.