Farmers living in and around Hakaluki Haor have been dealt a triple blow with the death of hundreds of ducks they have been farming for their livelihood for years.
First, their dream of a good harvest was shattered as the early flashflood, caused by last month's incessant rain and onrush of water from upstream rivers, completely destroyed Boro crops in over one lakh hectares of haor land in Sunamganj, Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Netrakona and Kishoreganj.
Fishermen and farmers of some parts of the affected region then complained of fish dying due to water contamination.
With the death of ducks, people in the haor area now feel devastated.
“Dead ducks are floating in the water everywhere. I lost all my 150 ducks,” said Kalimuddin of Maizbagh area in Sylhet's Fenchuganj.
A duck farmer for the last 10 years, he said he never saw anything like this in his life.
Saju Mia of Maijgaon village in Fenchuganj told The Daily Star, “At first, I lost my Boro paddy. I thought we could survive with duck farming in the haor. But I lost my 100 ducks.”
Another farmer Abdul Quayum of Ghilachhara village lost all his 250 ducks. “It seems like a plague. I used to sell duck eggs and earn my bread. Now I have nothing to do with no source of income.”
News of dead ducks floating ashore came from Fenchuganj, where duck farming is a major source of livelihood for locals around Hakaluki Haor. It prompted the livestock authorities to go for sample collection of dead fowls and determine the cause of their death.
All livestock officers from four districts of Sylhet division gathered at the divisional headquarters of the Department of Livestock Services (DLS) in Sylhet yesterday to take stock of the situation.
Following a meeting, Deputy Director Mohammad Giasuddin of Sylhet division DLS told The Daily Star that directives were given to send samples of dead ducks to Sylhet by today for lab tests.
Contacted, Director of Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI) in Savar, HBM Golam Mahmud, said they would inspect the flashflood affected areas today. He, however, declined to comment on the reasons of the death at this stage.
But officials concerned and experts in Dhaka are perplexed at the news of ducks' death, particularly wondering whether the rotting of paddy under floodwater have anything to do with the death of ducks.
They also urged the government to take immediate steps to find the reasons behind the death of fish and ducks.
Manzurul Hannan, director general of Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), told this newspaper that there was no denying the fact that fish and ducks were dying, but it was difficult to say that “these are happening because of the aftermath of flashflood-induced crop loss”.
“This is not the first time that our haor belt is experiencing flashfloods. But never before fish and ducks died because of flashflood-related crop loss or because of, as some people are saying, rotting of paddy under floodwater,” he said.
Nitish C Debnath, a national consultant at the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) Emergency Centre for Transboundary Diseases, said rotting of paddy under floodwater might be partially responsible for the water getting acidic, “but it needs studies to determine what exactly cost the lives of ducks and fish”.
A former vice-chancellor of Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Nitish said the current situation brought to fore the need for policy initiatives to ensure better management of “our wetland ecosystem”.
“We just can't gain benefits out of the haor resources only; in return, we've to ensure its healthy maintenance and better management.”
Nasrin Sultana, who heads the Veterinary and Animal Science Department at Sylhet Agriculture University (SAU), said the “dark plague” could have been caused by rotten paddy and dead fish.
She warned against consuming such dead fish or ducks.
Mohammad Shahabuddin, head of fisheries department of SAU, said monitoring should be in place so that nobody was allowed to eat the dead fish or birds in any form.
Sultan Mahmud, senior fisheries officer in Moulvibazar's Kulaura upazila, told this paper yesterday that 5,300kgs of limestone was dropped into haor water to neutralise acidity. Barlekha Upazila Nirbahi Officer SM Abdullah Al Mamun said around 4,000kgs of limestone was used for the purpose.
Large chunks of limestone were added to the water, and announcements were made through loudspeakers, warning people against catching the dead fish, said Mosharef Hossain, deputy director of the Department of Fisheries in Sylhet division.