Friday, 1 July, 2022
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Protecting Crops in Haor Region

Farid Hasan Ahmed

Due to continuous rainfall in upstream India’s Meghalaya and Assam, the water level in the haor areas of Bangladesh is swelling. Flood water has already inundated considerable hectares of boro land in various districts of the haor region.

Flash floods of 2017 caused huge devastation in haor areas. According  to a study, the people of six haor districts of Bangladesh had undergone agricultural and health-related losses of around Taka 29.42 billion due to the early flash floods in the month of March and April 2017.

Haors (very low lying river basin area below the flood plain level) of the North-Eastern part of Bangladesh are considered the most productive wetland resources. But these areas face flash floods caused by sudden and rapid early downstream water of the surrounding hills during the period late March to May.

Flash floods take place more frequently and less unpredictably. Haors are important areas for Boro rice cultivation (a rice variety cultivated from December to May). Boro is a largely mono-cropping agricultural system in haor.  But early flash floods often wash away standing crops and people lose their harvest. Floods, especially at the edge of harvest, make the farmers frustrated. They face a huge loss before a few days to be yielding of the crops which are irredeemable. Different media have already reported that the embankment work under Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) to save the mono croplands from possible floods was delayed. Allegations of irregularities in the implementation of the embankment work  in some areas are also being heard from local sources.

Steps to be undertaken

Considering the current situation in haor areas the following steps should be taken by relevant authorities and duty bearers:

Immediate action:

1) Instantaneous but result bearing  actions are needed by respective authorities and duty bearers to complete repairing work of earthen embankments/dykes in vulnerable spots of the haor region in conjunction with community and local governments. Any sorts of irregularities, dilemma might cause damages of crops due to early flash floods.

2) Appropriate allocation, rapid flow of funds and effective technical assistance, monitoring and supervision of these kinds of urgent activities should be ensured by authorities responsible at different layers.

3) Role of local governments and communities at the different stages of the work and flash flood situations needs to be emphasized, supported and ensured by authorities.

Long-term Steps:

Submergible embankment is economically smart interventions that help the people of the haor.  But limitations such as outfitted difficulties of physical workings and weak management set-up for operation, maintenance and protection, environmental consequences and lack of engagement of people of the interventions needs to be addressed effectively involving key actors.

Impact minimizing strategies such as the use of cropping patterns which minimize exposure to loss and the setting up of non-agricultural income-generating activities need to be promoted. Crop type and pattern should be selected according to susceptibility of flood; if possible effort should be given by concern agencies to find a new variety of species which match with the flash flood susceptibility.

Any livelihood initiative in the haor areas has to take into consideration flood aspects / issues, so that the initiative does not give in, rather yield some amount of benefit to the target people. Involvement of the community and enlisting their inputs in any kind of program design and relevant issues affecting their livelihood will make the intervention process easier and impact-bearing.

Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation in existing development works and future initiatives of different government departments and NGOs working in the area is a must. Concerned authorities should develop a disaster database which is very important to carry out detailed study and planning.

GO and NGOs need to redesign their development programmes with the active participation of the most vulnerable communities to ensure that they maximize flood mitigation potential and incorporate traditional community coping practices which are fit technically, environmentally  and economically  .

The respective authorities at different levels should strengthen capacity building initiatives of the local government. A well organised and coordinated effort is needed to further strengthen local level planning, implementing decision making processes and the allocation of resources to local government for flash flood proof programmes in the vulnerable location. Proper resources from the central government and others should be ensured by authorities and policy makers.

Suitable steps particularly structural measures in haor areas could be taken considering existing study recommendations on floods/flash floods management with proper cross validation. Facilitating new study and action research for more durable solutions in protecting boro crops, properties and assets of haor areas might be a worthy step.

In forecasting monsoon river floods of  Bangladesh is in good form, but in forecasting flash floods a lot of gaps and limitations are observed. At this point improvement of the present forecasting system is very much needed. Cross border steps should be explored by political and technical authorities in this regard.

Far-reaching river dredging program programs should be taken with community participation to remove the sediments from the river bed deposited during floods to increase the water holding capacity of the drainage systems and to increase the water flow capacity. The abandoned channels also need to be re-excavated to reduce the water logging problem.

 In April 2017, the former water resources minister said ‘Flash floods in the haor areas after incessant rainfall has spilled over the crop protection embankments as the height of water was above the barriers causing the damage to the crops.’  He also mentioned, “We have to re-evaluate certain matters like to raise embankment height or to change rice varieties that grow in the area with longer harvesting time.” An investigation could be facilitated involving relevant actors to find out the effectiveness of embankment work, limitations and irregularities. 

The success of responsible authorities to protect  haor crops would be treated as a smart step for ensuring food security of a large number of people in haor areas which is linked with political comfort of policymakers both at local and national level.

 

The writer is a Disaster Risk Reduction

Expert and Development Lawyer