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Koyra people still struggling

Tarikul Islam . Khulna
26 May 2023 00:00:00 | Update: 26 May 2023 01:28:37
Koyra people still struggling
Locals use a raft made of plastic drums to cross a canal in absence of a bridge – Tarikul Islam

People of Koyra upazila in the coastal district of Khulna have yet to fully recover from the marks left behind by cyclone Aila even though 14 years have passed since then.

Many lost their homes and sources of livelihood and have yet to stand back up again. There is also a dire need for clean drinking water in different unions of the upazila.

On May 25, 2009, the embankment of Koyra River collapsed at a place called Pabna of Moharajpur union and a branch river was formed dividing Mathbari village into two parts during the cyclone.

That branch river merged with Shakbaria canal and the road alongside it got devoured. About 300 bighas of cultivable land got lost into the river that now runs about 35 feet deep.

The Protyap Smarani High School, No 35 South Mathbari Primary School, a community clinic and a freshwater pond are isolated from the area. For the past 14 years, crossing the 160-metre-wide river on rafts is the only means of transportation for school students, patients visiting the clinic and residents who want clean drinking water.

Over 4,000 people in the village continue to suffer on a daily basis due to this. Pregnant women and young students are constantly forced to cross floating drum rafts with the risk of falling into the river. Many students are dropping out of school due to the unnecessary hassle of a commute.

On the other hand, those who have lost their houses and farmland to the river have yet to financially recover.

Besides, there was once a bridge over the Patharkhali Canal in North Bedkashi union of the upazila that collapsed during cyclone Aila alongside 70-80 bighas of land.

Residents of Batulbazar, Patharkhali, and Majherpara villages on the north side of the canal have to come to Ratnagheri village and Borobari market on the south side for health care, education and grocery shopping.

Besides, the people of the southern part have to travel for trade and agriculture. After years of risking crossing by boat, the locals have recently built a floating drum bridge. Residents however demand a proper bridge.

Not only Aila, but the cyclones Fani and Bulbul in 2019, Amphan in 2020, and Yaas in 2021 dealt severe damage to Koyra and its surrounding areas. People affected by these natural disasters have not yet recovered.

Many left the area in search of livelihood, and those who stayed are living destitute life. Besides, Thousands of people in the upazila earn their livelihood by working in brick kilns or as day labourers for meagre pay.

Pathorkhali Miloni Jubo Sangho General Secretary Deenbandhu Mandal said the floating drum bridge was built this year on their own initiative after unsuccessfully asking for one from the administration and local public representatives for years.

Octogenarian Ismail Gazi has been living in a ramshackle hut on the river embankment of Mathbari village with his wife after losing their home to Aila.

“Our few katha of land along with the house were devoured by the canal. Our sons live elsewhere. I and my old wife live here since we have nowhere else to go,” said the elderly man.

Ziaur Rahman of Mathbari village said, “I had a house and 10 katha of land near Pabna. It turned into a canal during Aila. Now I barely have a place to stay and lead a life of extreme poverty.”

Yunus, Ilias, Mujibur and many others like them are also leading similar life amidst many struggles.

Abu Saeed Biswas, a member of Ward 3 of Moharajpur union, said that about 4,000 people in his ward are facing severe hardships in terms of community services, clean water and transportation to schools.

“If an embankment can be built on the banks of Shakbaria, it will be possible to reduce the suffering of the locals. It will also be possible to trap rainwater this way and use that to irrigate the farmlands on both sides of the canal,” he said.

Koyra Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Mominur Rahman said the matter will be discussed during this month’s coordination meeting and added that they will try to find a solution soon.

Chairman of Koyra Upazila Parishad SM Shafiqul Islam said, “About one kilometre of land from Pabna to Shakbaria was eroded and became a canal. It was not possible to do it locally due to excessive expenses. A major project needs to be sanctioned to alleviate the suffering of the locals.”

Cyclone Aila made landfall on May 25, 2009, in Khulna division. Vast areas of Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat were damaged during the disaster. Saline water flooded the area causing long-lasting damage.

Khulna’s Koyra and Dakop upazilas and the coastal areas of Sundarban were the most affected. Embankments built by the Bangladesh Water Development Board on various rivers eroded away in 27 places. The areas are yet to recover fully from the damage.