Shrinking the size of lands
Continuous sea-level rise and massive erosion, both manifestations of global climate change, are shrinking the size of islands in Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar districts. Sandwip, an ancient island in Chittagong, is on the verge of disappearance. Other islands of the Chittagong region, as well as Shah Porir Dwip, Sonadia, Kutubdia, and Moheshkhali, in Cox’s Bazaar district, are shrinking fast, as well.
Climate change has effected intrusion of saline water into the soil of these islands. This has caused an alarming decline in the production of different species of paddy, jute, betel leaf, coconuts, date and wheat.
According to sources, 600 square miles of the Swandip island has already gone under the sea, with its area shrunken to mere 70 square miles. In 1987, Prof. Rajib Humayun of Dhaka University, in one his books, “History, Society and Culture of Sandwip”, mentioned that the area of the island had shrunken to 258 square miles in 1920, 137.16 square miles in 1981, and 100 square miles in 1987.
During the last 25 years, a large chunk of the island has gone under the Bay of Bengal, as well as the Meghna estuary. Even a few decades back, there were Katgor, Ijjotpur, Hudrakhali, Nayamosti and Batajora union parisads at the island. Since then, all those localities have disappeared under water.
Area residents told The Independent that every year, thousands of people become “climate refugees” at the island, especially during the rainy season.
While visiting the erosion-hit areas, The Independent found a large portion of the island, including the west of Kalapania, Harispur, Rahmotpur, Ajimpur, Musapur, Maitvanga and Sarikait, as well as the south of Sarikait and Mogdhara union parishad, lying unprotected from erosion and tidal surges.
Thousands of families have been displaced from the west and the south of Sandwip, as the sea and the Meghna have gobbled up their ancestral land.
During a visit to the Meghna estuary adjacent to Harishpur Union Parishad, locals said there had been localities at about eight to 10 km away from the present coastline.
Kazi Arif, a resident of Harispur UP, said there were thousands of houses, shops, educational institutions and the historic Shahebani Mosque, only some kilometres away from the present riverbank. ” But river erosion has destroyed all those establishments,” he added.
Shahidul Quader, chairman of Harispur UP, told The Independent that sans a strong coastal embankment, there would be no trace of the union parishad in the next 10 years. “Every year, hundreds of families in my union parishad are being displaced by the erosion. But, the government has taken no initiatives in this regard,” he added.
The village of Mozaffar Ahmed, pioneer of communist movement in India, in the Musapur area, has gone under the sea water about a couple of years back. Other villages of the region, within a radius of around six kms, have also met the same fate.
Zaforullah Titu, mayor of the Sandwip Municipality, said if the government, as well as different international organisations, do not take immediate steps to save the Sandwip Island, it would soon be obliterated from the country’s map. He urged the government to construct a strong embankment around the island, as soon as possible, to protect the people.
Ashraf Hossain, coordinator of the Oxfam-funded REE-CALL project at Sandwip, said local residents face perennial loss of their crop land, due to intrusion of saline water into the soil, during tidal surges.
Poet Belal Mohammad, another local resient, said, “People are losing faith in their traditional occupations, such as, agriculture, owing to a drastic decline the agricultural output. As a result, most of them are changing their profession, and are being forced to migrate.”
Similarly, islands in Cox’s Bazaar district have also been hard hit by nature’s whims. The Shah Porir Dwip in Teknaf Upazila has lost about one and a half km of its area, due to massive erosion caused by tidal surges, this monsoon.
Our Cox’s Bazaar correspondent, Sayeed Alamgir, adds: Other islands in Cox’s Bazaar, including Moheshkhali, Sonadia and Kutubdia, are also experiencing the impact of climate change.
Prof. Mohammad Al Amin, former director of Institute of Forestry and Environmental Sciences of Chittagong University (CU), described Sandwip as the worst sufferer of climate change, due to its geographical position. He also said that people residing in different islands in the Chittagong region have been facing challenges of unequal access to resources, enhanced food insecurity, and poor health management systems.
-With The Independent input