Boat-only transport a reality of monsoon life
In around 100 villages across three Moulvibazar upazilas the monsoon months leave small 'nouka' boats as the only practical means of transport. With heavy rainfall all roads in the area of Hakaluki Haor, including the Kulaura to Barlekha highway are submerged. At such times, for getting to school, the office or the market boats are the only option.
“During the rainy season, vehicular movement is usually suspended, even on the highway, for high water levels,” says Komru Mia, an auto-rickshaw driver from Joypasa village in Kulaura upazila. “With Eid fast approaching, drivers in the area's are missing out on an income due to the flooding. Boats are the only way to get around.”
“People are entirely dependent on boats here,” says Bimol Da, an NGO worker from neighbouring Juri upazila. “And the boatmen know it! They take the opportunity to charge exorbitant fares of Tk 100 or more, which we are all forced to pay as there is no alternative.”
“I realise a tidy profit thanks to the long-term flood, which will be helpful for covering my family's Eid expenses in about a months' time,” says one Juri boatman, Munem.
According to Juri's upazila nirbahi officer Mintu Chowdhury, at least 22 villages in that upazila have been dependent on boat transport for the last two weeks or so. SM Abdullah Al Mamun, the upazila nirbahi officer in neighbouring Balekha upazila meanwhile says boat communication there is essential as the highways to both Juri and Kulaura are closed due to inundation.
The situation has a particular impact upon visitors to the area including tourists, many of whom are unaware of the reality of life in the haors. “I have visited Hakaluki before,” says Md Moin Uddin from Bogra, “For the first time I tried to visit with my family. We are five members so I booked a rental vehicle, but when we reached Kulaura we found that the vehicle cannot go anywhere because even the main roads are flooded. The alternative is to travel by boat, but boat rental prices are high.”
According to local business proprietors tourism to Hakaluki during the period is popular; but this year enjoyment has turned sour for many, due to the road closures. Profits for many tourism-related businesses are adversely affected.