Once mighty Teesta river has turned into a thin flow at the beginning of the dry season, thanks withdrawal to water from upstream in India.
Livelihoods of a large number of boatmen, fishermen and farmers of the river basin villages in the district are under threat due to the situation.
"Now people do not need a boat for crossing the river as they can do it on foot. I have not earned any money from plying my boat for the last two weeks,” said Boatman Nazrul Islam, 55, of Parulia Ghat in Hatibandha upazila of the district.
Boatmen at 35 ghats are facing the same problem, he said.
Fisherman Naresh Chandra Das, 50, of Daspara village in Aditmari upazila said they cannot catch fish due to lack of water flow in the Teesta river. “At least 3,000 fishermen at 25 villages in the district have been facing problems catching fish, so many of them are doing other work to support their families,” he added.
“We walk across the river as it is only knee-deep,” said Mofazzal Hossain, 56, a farmer at Sholmari char in Kaliganj upazila. “It pains us to see the Teesta in this condition,” he added, demanding immediate implementation of a deal for water sharing.
Farmer Nabiar Rahman, 68, of Char Kalmati in Lalmonirhat Sadar said, “As underground water is falling sharply due to the lack of water from upstream, we cannot produce crops in the river basin areas.”
Executive Engineer of Water Development Board (WDB) in Dalia Mahbubur Rahman said Bangladesh and India were scheduled to sign Teesta water sharing agreement in Dhaka during the visit of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2011, but no result has been seen yet. The Joint River Commission (JRC) meeting scheduled for June 2013 was postponed at the eleventh hour as the Indian water resources minister expressed his inability to attend it.
No JRC meeting took place since 2010, although it has to meet at least twice a year to resolve issues relating to common rivers, Mahbubur said, adding that Bangladesh is now getting 700-800 cusec water against 4,000-5,000 cusec water at Teesta Barrage point at Dalia, but it will fall drastically from January to March.
Farmers in the country's northern districts depended on Teesta water to irrigate their crop fields during the dry season, but unusually low flow of the river in Bangladesh due to India's unilateral water withdrawal from upstream badly affects farming and biodiversity in the region, said Mamunur Rashid, coordinator (Agriculture and Environment) of RDRS Bangladesh.
"The flow at Teesta barrage point falls drastically from January to May each year due to India's unilateral water withdrawal from upstream in the absence of a sharing agreement. The situation affects the livelihoods of millions of people and ecology in the northern districts," said WDB official Mahbubur Rahman.
Bangladesh needs an immediate solution to the Teesta water sharing issue to meet its irrigation needs, otherwise Lalmonirhat and other districts in the north will face desertification, he added.