Movement to Protect the River Jamuna and Its Community

Together with other regional, national and local organizations, Waterkeepers Bangladesh organized a community meeting with the people of Bhatpiyari, Sirajganj on 7th of April 2017. The main purpose of this meeting was to share the realities around Jamuna to get insights about the experiences of the people of Brahmaputra Basin who are facing extreme climate variability in the hydrological cycle. Another purpose of the meeting was to understand the impacts of changes in climate, erratic weather patterns, higher riparian structures (such as Dams and Barrage) which are resulting in high level of flood, erosion and drought. During the movement, more than 2000 people gathered, at the school ground of Bhatpiyari and shared their story of sufferings in public.

Community in Bhatpiyari Village,Sirajganj

Tremendous adverse impact of upper riparian interventions to the main rivers in Brahmaputra Basin is evident by the bank of Jamuna in Sirajganj. Number of Dams and Barrages are there on the Brahmaputra and Teesta rivers in India and Chaina that are either under operation or in pipeline. These are: Doyang Hep Dam, Karbi Langpi Dam, Khandong Dam, Kyrdemkulai Dam, Nongkhyllem Dam, Ranganadi Dam, Rangit III Dam, Rangpo Dam, Rongli Dam, Subansiri Lower Dam, Teesta V Dam, Teesta III Dam, Teesta III Lower Dam, Teesta IV Dam, Teesta IV Lower Dam, Umiam Dam, Umrong Dam, Umtru Dam and Zangmu Dam. There are the Due to Gazoldoba and Teesta barrage, there is hardly any water throughout the basin for the survival of the rivers themselves. Lack of water during lean period expedited the sedimentation and river changed its natural structure and capacity to carry sufficient water during monsoon. It is evident that current water projects adopted by upstream countries (India, China) such as big dams, diversions and hydro projects have not met their stated objectives but have instead created serious long-term and widespread negative ecological and social impacts on Bangladesh side. The dams and barrages are designed to control floods but created floods by releasing excess water at the peak of the monsoon. The demand turns (at worst) between March and April, when the water flow from Teesta often goes below 1,000 cusecs from 5,000 cusecs.  As a result, many free-flowing rivers of Bangladesh have now become a series of stagnant water bodies. Small rivers and cannels have lost their connectivity that enhanced the death of the water bodies dependent on the Brahmaputra, Teesta and Jamuna.  During peak monsoon due to release of excess water causes flash flood that causes serious bank erosion. The connectivity between the rivers, wetlands and floodplains also has been jeopardized because of dysfunctional sluice gates or regulators.  The Jamuna is a braided river that is highly susceptible to erosion.  Construction of the Bangabandhu Jamuna Bridge and bank protection structures at Bogra, Sirajganj and Pabna have created an influence further to the changes of the structure of the water bodies. These types of structures are reducing the freedom of the river to widen through bank erosion. The excessive water flow erodes the riverbanks and causes flooding to the adjacent villages that are affecting thousands of people and their livelihoods.

The people of Bhatpiyari village are engaged in farming, fishing and hand-loom cottage. Being situated by the bank of the river Jamuna, the village covers a major portion of the victims of river erosion and flash flood. The affected people shift to the nearby district or to others areas after losing everything into the river. Furthermore, after construction of the Jamuna Bridge, more people living by the bank of Jamuna River are being displaced. In the last 10 years the Jamuna river eroded nearly 30 villages, one third of the district town and 400,000 people became homeless. Bhatpiyari faces extreme river erosion every year. In the last 3 years, huge chars (islands) have been forming in the middle of the river causing more sufferings to the people. Thereby, livelihood, education, and also social values of the affected people become vulnerable. However, the major consequence comes with the lack of food security.

Discussion with the community clearly indicates that the erosion has a great impact on the livelihoods of this low riparian population, agriculture, and environment. Different types of vulnerabilities are generated as a consequence of erosion. Family relation and social bondage have been broken down, and the social status has been degraded.  Bilkis Begum from Bhapiyari said that she used to live in her mother-in-law’s land along with her disabled husband and three children, but unfortunately due to the erosion in 2013, she moved to Bhatpiyari in her own father’s land but her mother-in-law shifted to Tangail district with her elder son.  Talking with the community it was found that, river erosion forced thousands of people to leave their own land and migrate to different parts of the country for living. From the consultation it was discovered that people aged between 20-35 were the major migration group, and moves to different districts such as Bogra, Chittagong, Dhaka, Dinajpur, Gaibandha, Pabna and other towns for shelter and employments.

The community alleged to repair the damage flood protection embankment on an immediate basis. Community people said they have been repairing the embankment by dumping sand bags and installing bamboo enclosures in the past flood period. However, local government does not pay much attention to these problems. Illegal sand extraction from the encroachers have been increasing, so the community people alleged to stop this procedure immediately.

During the meeting, Waterkeepers Bangladesh ensured the presence of the Chairman of National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) and the responsible government authorities of Water Development Board and District Administration. In the meeting, public consultation and accountability of the implementation of government projects around Bhatpiyari village and Jamuna River were taken under action. Accountability of the River Conservation Commission, Water Development Board and Local Government Authority were apparently established through that meeting. There are big embankments and dredging projects in that area were coming up soon and the inclusion of people in the implementation process were committed publicly by the government officials.

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