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River flooding, erosion hitting earlier than usual in Bangladesh

By Syful Islam

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AlertNet) - Hundreds of people in Sirajganj district, northwest of the capital city of Dhaka, lost their homes and crops to unusually early flooding and river erosion this year, a development experts believe is linked to climate change.

"Usually such flooding comes in late May. But this year the flood and river erosion took place at least one and half months before. This is bit unusual," said Ainun Nishat, a senior climate change adviser with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in Dhaka.

"If you look at the history, you will hardly get any examples of such early flooding and massive erosion," he said.

This year, the Jamuna River at Sirajganj was flowing two meters higher than normal the first week of May, when it is usually much quieter, he said.

People in Sirajganj district said the early flooding brought much faster erosion than in previous years. Already this year, 300 people have lost their homes and crops to the problem, said Fazel Khoda, a local journalist.

Parts or all of six villages, as well as hundreds of acres of farmland, have been lost to the Jamuna so far this year, he said, and many more villages are at risk.

Each year, the number of people losing land or homes to river erosion in the district is rising by about 100, he said.

Abu Mohammed Golam Kibria, chairman of a Sirajganj sub-district, told Alertnet that the early flooding and erosion is the worst seen in 25 years.


Kibria said the erosion has become such a big problem that it now threatens not only villages but some of the public flood shelters built to help people affecting by flooding, as well as primary schools and mosques in the southern part of Sirjgani district.

Kibria said some people, after losing their land and homes, are migrating to Dhaka to find food and shelter. Others are going to nearby towns to try to find alternative sources of income, he said.

Akter Hossain, 40, a resident of Boro Piarir Chak village, told AlertNet that he lost two acres of rice and peanut fields to the early erosion.

"My family had 35 acres of land, most of which we have lost to river erosion. In 1996, I lost my house to erosion and since then I have lived on an elevated road built by the government," he said.

With virtually all of his land now gone, "I support my family by pulling a rickshaw and doing some works as a day labourer," said Hossain, a father of four.

Shahidul Islam, 55, of the same village, said the river took two of his remaining three acres of rice fields this year, as well as his house.

Like Hossain, he now lives on an elevated road with six members of his family. He fears the Jamuna is now poised to take his remaining bit of farmland.

"Now we eat once a day," he said. "We have not had any help from the government to recover our losses."

Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advance Studies, said the water level at the Jamuna bridge in Sirajganj from April 27 to May 9 hit 10.9 metres, compared to 7.5 metres in 2009, 8.1 metres in 2008 and 9.3 metres in 2007.

The very high river flows came despite no rainfall in Bangladesh over the period, Rahman said, though some of the water came from unusual heavy rains in the neighbouring Indian state of Assam in early May.

"Normally the April-May period for Bangladesh and India is drought season. There was no such flood earlier," he said.

Syful Islam is a senior reporter with The New Nation newspaper in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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