Drying up of the Teesta riverbed in the dry season is threatening bio-diversity, environment and ecology side by side hampering the livelihoods of thousands of farmers living in the northern region.
According to local sources, continuous silting up of the riverbed along with deposits of stones, pebbles and heavy sand throughout the Teesta river course in Bangladesh side is also adversely affecting navigation as well as irrigation for crop cultivation.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), about 60 per cent of an estimated 90,000 hectares of land in the river basin areas of the region remains unutilised in the dry season.
Thousands of farmers of char areas in Rangpur cultivate Boro paddy, wheat, potato, maize and other vegetable crops, spending little money as the vast tract of land is fertile on the bank of the river.
The farmers have become compelled to use diesel-run shallow machines to irrigate their lands due to the lack of water in the river. They have made a hectic effort to produce vegetables like- potatoes, maize, pumpkins, onion and chillies on the vast track of sandy char lands of the river.
Not only the Teesta, but dozens of the other rivers and tributaries of Rangpur, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Nilphamari, Panchagarh, Thakurgaon and Dinajpur districts have now turned into dried-up canals with almost no water flow.
Farmer Badsha Miah, 50, of Mahipur Char in Gongachara upazila of Rangpur district said he has planted potatoes and chillies. He has to set up a shallow machine in the land to irrigate his potato and chilly fields as there is a water crisis in the river.
Jadu Miah, 45, another farmer of Char Bhotmari village in Kaliganj upazila of Lalmonirhat district said potato and pumpkin cultivation in char areas require a huge amount of water supply. Farmers fail to irrigate their lands for the shortage of water flow in the river. Supplying water by the shallow machine has become an extra burden to them increasing the production cost.
Milon Miah, 35, a farmer of Majer Char from Bidyananda union under Rajarhat upazila of Kurigram district said he has cultivated maize on his 10 bighas of sandy char land. Finding no water in the river, he has to set up a diesel-run shallow machine to provide a water supply in the maize field.
Abul Kashem, 68, a farmer at Kurul village under Lalmonirhat Sadar said he has 10 bighas of land on the bank of the river. But he can grow crops only on less than 5 bighas once a year. The rest remains either submerged or too dry for cultivation around the year.
Deputy Director of DAE in Lalmonirhat, Hamidur Rhaman said many of the Char farmers have managed to change their fates by growing varieties of crops on the sandy land. Around 20,000 farmers of the district cultivate paddy potatoes, maize, pumpkins, and other crops on the vast track of char lands to support their livelihood. Farmers get good crops from the char lands at little cost.
Executive Engineer, Water development Board, Lalmonirhat, Mizanur Rahman said, the Teesta water flow is not enough as the riverbed is full of silt. Many narrow channels, however, have been created from the main river that has divided the flow of water. Thus the river becomes slow, narrow and continues a twisty course.
The director of Riverine People Tuhin Wadud, also an Associate Professor at Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur said, the river goes dry during the month of November to May and the riverbed becomes compacted with silt creating hazards for the livelihood of the thousands of people depending on the river and loss of biodiversity in the region.
“When flash floods occur repeatedly during monsoon the river cannot accommodate the rush of water and erodes the bank causing loss of lives, croplands and properties. Scientific dredging and proper nurture are needed to maintain the water flow and depth of the river,” he said.