Unrepaired embankments cause years of hardship
With monsoon beginning, people living in villages on the banks of the Kacha and Baleshwar rivers in Pirojpur are afraid. Since cyclone Sidr damaged many local embankments in 2007, living with risk has been ceaseless, but when the rivers rise in the rainy season and the threat of flooding increases, the situation becomes even more treacherous.
Abdul Hakim is holding his lungi up at knee height as he traverses a broken embankment in Chandipur village of Zianagar upazila, beside the Baleshwar. “We all have to cross the broken embankment like this,” he says, “every day when the area is submerged at high tide.” He's on his way home from the village market on a Tuesday at noon.
“Women and children suffer the most,” says another villager Md Maharaz Khan, adding that when Sidr hit on 15 November 2007 lives were lost and much property damaged.
“But we have born this situation for so many years,” says Maharaz. “Really we have long become accustomed to it.”
For thousands of people on both sides of the two rivers, in Zianagar, Mathbaria and Bhandaria upazilas hitching lungi up to the knee, negotiating broken embankments, wading through water: these are activities as usual as rice growing in a field, seemingly as natural as the blueness of a fine-day sky.
“We live here at the mercy of Allah,” says another villager Abdul Haq, 65.
All agree that none from the government visit to witness the embankment damage.
With so little in the way of protection from the elements, the recent cyclone Roanu dealt another period of heightened worry. “If the cyclone hit our area,” says Safia Begum, “we wouldn't survive.” Fortunately, Roanu brought no serious troubles to Pirojpur.
But the approaching rainy season undoubtedly will. “Our houses flood during tidal surges; then we can't go out,” says Safia of the monsoon, “and at night it is impossible to go out at all.”
“My daughter Meem studies in class three,” says housewife Nargis, “and her school is two kilometers away. Sometimes she arrives at home soaking wet from having waded through the flooded embankment area.”
“It's especially a risk for those who can't swim,” Nargis adds.
According to the Bangladesh Water Development Board office in Pirojpur, there are around 230 kilometres of embankment in the district.
Locals complain that while sometimes, the damaged embankments are repaired, most often it occurs due to the monsoon crisis, with the result that the work is hardly done properly.
About the matter, Sayeed Ahmed, water development board executive engineer in Pirojpur, says that the damaged embankment in Mathbaria upazila is being reconstructed with the assistance of the World Bank.
As well, a tender process for reconstruction of 40 kilometres of embankment in Bhandaria upazila has been completed, with World Bank help anticipated.
“A team of Japan International Cooperative Agency visited the damaged embankment area in Zianagar upazila,” said the engineer adding that if they agree, they will be able to reconstruct that damaged embankment.
He also said that they have demanded funds for emergency repairs to 3.9 kilometres of embankment in Mathbaria and Zianagar.
In the meantime, residents prepare to face yet another monsoon in which daily life may require swimming skills, or at the least, hitching lungi up to knee-height.