Twelve small rivers have already dried up and two major rivers -- Teesta and Dharla -- have been turned into canals in the district due to lack of water flow from upstream India.
Mile of chars have developed on the rivers, causing problems for the char people as they have to cross many kilometres of sandy char land to go to the mainland.
As the two major rivers have turned into canals, almost all of the 300 boatmen and over 2,000 fishermen, who depended on the rivers to earn their livelihood, have became unemployed. They are searching for other jobs in the Teesta and Dharla river char areas.
The Teesta and the Dharla used to flow all-year-round a decade ago, but nowadays there is not enough water in winter for optimal agriculture. Across the villages situated on the two rivers in the district, the situation is similarly gloomy. The Teesta, which can be up to five km wide, is currently reduced to a width of about 30 metres, with only knee-deep water. The scenario is the same for the Dharla.
Teesta char people said the unilateral construction of a barrage across the Teesta at India's Gazaldoba, around 100 km upstream of the Teesta Barrage Irrigation Project at Dalia in Hatibandha upazila, is the reason for the poor condition of the river.
Mamunur Rashid, Agriculture and Environment Coordinator of non-governmental organisation RDRS Bangladesh, said farmers in the country's northern districts depend 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.
“There is so little water in the Teesta river that is difficult to ply a boat on it,” said boatman Noor Islam, 52, of Kalmati area in Sadar upazila. “Six boatmen who plied boats in this ghat are now searching for an alternative job to earn their livelihood,” he said.
Fisherman Supen Chandra Das, 58, of Kulaghat Daspara, said there is no water in the Teesta and Dharla rivers, so there are no fish. They have become unemployed and are searching for alternative jobs, he added.
“The river is all char and no water,” said char farmer Nader Ali, 52, of Teesta river Char Paruliya, adding that they have to face suffering to earn their livelihood while Teesta is dried up. The char people have to walk for miles along the sandy stretches that now connect many char communities with the mainland, he said,
“We also have to face difficulty in transporting agriculture products to the mainland markets,” said char farmer Delowar Hossain, 55. “If we had water available in our rivers we could ply our boats, which would make our living more comfortable,” he said.
Executive Engineer of Water Development Board in Lalmonirhat Abdullah Al-Mamun told this correspondent that a huge quantity of sediment from upstream India comes into Bangladesh during monsoon and fills up the river bed of the Teesta and Dharla rivers every year.
“It is necessary to dredge the river bed to remove the excess sediment and revive the flow of river water,” he said.