Once-mighty Kapotakkho River faces slow demise
Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Staff Correspondent

The once mighty Kapotakkho River is slowly dying due to siltation, while huge areas on both sides of the river become increasingly water logged.

The critical condition of the country's south-western river system has left hundreds of thousands facing extreme hardship. Farmers in the area are desperately trying to save their land by pumping surface water back into the Kapotakkho River; nevertheless many are finding it difficult to harvest more than one crop in a season. They have one hope left — to sell their land as soon as the water recedes.

SM Mahfuzul Haq, upazila nirbahi officer for Keshobpur, said: "We have sought assistance from the agriculture ministry and the relief ministry to help the local farmers grow irri boro."

On Jan 19, the Keshobpur Upazila Nirbahi Office sent letters requesting urgent assistance to the district administration, Water Development Board and BADC office.

The letters recommended dredging the Kapotakkho River and its tributaries, the Harihar and Buribhadra, as well as their linking canals. They also requested the installation of a dam in the downstream Paikpara area, and an assurance that navigability on the river would be maintained using electric pumps.

According to the Keshobpur Upazila Nirbahi Office, about 1,240 hectares of land under their jurisdiction are submerged, which accounts for around 9,000 tonnes of lost rice production a year.

Abdul Majid Mollah, executive engineer of the Water Development Board in Jessore, told benews24.com: "The entire 55 km stretch of the Kapotakkho River has become silted." "Even three to four months after the rainy season water has still not drained from homesteads or agricultural land," said Mollah.

The decline of the river started in 1861, when the Assam Bengal Railway was built. This engineering project weakened the Kapotakkho, and its sister river the Bhairab, turning them into coastal waterways whose existence depended on the tides.

Coastal embankments and sluice gates built during the Pakistan period were intended to reduce salination, but ended up hindering the natural process of land formation. In the present day, the high tide deposits silt, while water only flows downstream in low tide.

This has led to increasing siltation and persistent water logging in the area. Abu Bakar Siddiqui, joint convenor of the Save Kapotakkho Movement, told bdnews24.com:

"About 150 villages in six unions remain under water for six to nine months every year." In the wake of widespread calls for action in 2003-04, the government started dredging the Kapotakkho, although the Tk 29 crore project was halted half way through. "There was a lot of corruption in the dredging work. In spite of that, farmers' harvested good crops in the river basin for four years thanks to the project," said Siddiqui.

"We demand the removal of silt from the lower part of the river to help the natural land formation process. The government should also take steps to link the Kapotakkho with the Mathabhanga River," he said.

Kabir Laskar, a farmer from Dharmapur, said: "We do not want to beg, we want to work for our food. We ask the government to recover our lands." Agriculture and water resources adviser CS Karim visited the irrigation work at Kadarbeel in Nehalpur on Jan 25.

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