Fun & Games

Thousands give last drive to earn meal from deep Haor waters

By Saiful Islam Shameem

SHONIR HAOR, Sunamganj, May 20, 2017 (BSS) - Even after three weeks of their ongoing distress, thousands of devastated farmers and their famished co-workers are still on their frantic efforts to rescue part of their pre- matured paddy lost under deep 'haor' waters on the very first day of April.

Any newcomer travelling through Sunamgaj-Tahirpur road would easily be delighted at the road's dead end to see hundreds of small fishing-alike boats floating on the vast serene water of Shonir Haor and be optimistic about promising days of the flash-flood victims who need immediate employment to offset losses and earn meals to survive.

But the fact remains somewhere else!

"These boats are not fishing boats," says a three-wheeler CNG-driver on an utter surprise, prompting a deep curiosity in mind. "These boats are being used to recover paddy from haor waters- not fish."

He further continues: finding no other option, the local people have innovated anchor-like 'bamboo-comb' that they throw into waters from boats and extract paddy, tree of which are already half-rotten and could give hardly a 20-percent yield as rice fields drowned weeks before their normal harvest in haors this year.

Haors are low-lying areas in country's north-eastern area and spread over swathes of seven districts namely Sunamganj, Kishoreganj, Netrokona, Sylhet, Habiganj, Moulvi Bazar and Bramanbaria.

Official say haor people endure mild natural disasters almost every alternate year but this year's devastation, worst in recent memories, have affected 850,088 families in 62 upazilas in seven districts.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid her visit twice in haors in little over two weeks time, disbursed relief and cash, and promised her government's commitment to do everything possible for the flood affected people.

She also announced a support package that include agriculture subsidy, waiver of agri loan interests, free agriculture inputs, and a long term plan for haor's sustainable development.

But all these government supports need to be supplemented by local and individual endeavours to overcome the devastation, says Saiful Islam, Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Tahirpur, putting his finger to the rice recovery from Shonir Haor, next to his office. He says the government has been trying its best to stand beside the victims in many ways but acknowledged that it alone could not solve every problem.

Local people say rice growers, especially the middle class having over 10 Kiyars/Bighas of land, are the worst victims who need special attention from the government and a planned support for them. This middle class, as several people say, are the backbone of haor agriculture and poses a social dignity. So, they are reluctant to take relief from any.

"We are at a great danger. Neither can we go for begging nor can we stand in the relief line. We feel shy to seek relief. We had everything- now we are neither a beggar nor a refugee," says Khelu Mia, 50, accusing the faulty victims list, where affected farmers should get the focus. But it is the poor and hardcore poor who are enjoying the benefit.

These poor people do get government help round the year under many programmes like VGD, VGF, GR, OMS and Fair Price, but affected farmers, who are basically rice growers, did never enjoy those and they don't need it. But this time is an exception, he says adding 'now the government should support farmers only."

It is not only a question of survival up to 12 next months, Khelu Mia says. It is also a question of how we would do agriculture in upcoming season in empty hands, an observation supported by many of his peers, who have desperately been looking for a sustainable solution in haor agriculture, fisheries and development.

Asked a woman boiling paddy on a roadside stove about her rice source, she says she has gotten only 20 kg of rice from Shonir Haor after her husband's seven days of recovery of paddy from deep water. This amount of paddy would yield hardly 8 kg of rice and it would hardly support five-member family for another week.

"We see a major despair after next two months when all our little savings and earnings would dry up," echoes another lady, showing her hands that have gotten skin diseases due to handling of rotten paddy for last two weeks. Her husband also complained burn sensation and itching at night due to rice drive in Shonir haor.

Agriculture experts say the crop pattern in haor areas need to be revised and the farmers must be demotivated from growing high yielding variety of Boro 28, 29 which are most susceptible to flash floods. Instead, the farmers have to be motivated afresh to grow traditional varieties that harvest early and risks to floods are minimal. Besides, focus should also be given to Aus and Aman production.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)