A key embankment weakens as Jamuna River moves west 

  • Zia Shaheen, Bogura Correspondent and Israel Hossain, Sirajganj Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-09-16 13:34:29 BdST

The river Jamuna has begun to change its course westward as its banks in Sirajganj and Bogura continue to erode away.

Meanwhile, a 217-km long protective embankment along the western side of the river has been thrown into jeopardy as the ongoing erosion has forced the inhabitants of the affected areas to relocate near the barrier.

As people seek to establish settlements, they have begun ploughing the land in the area, weakening the embankment in the process.

Furthermore, rodents like mice have followed them to their new surroundings, adding to the concerns over the embankment.

Bogura's Sarikandi Upazila along with several parts of Sirajganj's Shahjadpur Upazila is now at risk of being engulfed by the river.

The authorities in both districts have taken up different projects to prevent river erosion, some of which have proved to be fruitful.

Despite the initiatives, people remain in constant fear about their future.

The 217-km long embankment stretching from Kaunia Rail bridge to Bherakola in Pabna was constructed between 1963 to 1968, said Mahbubul Rahman, executive engineer of Bogura Water Development Board.

"The embankment plays an important role in preventing floods, but many parts of it get damaged every year due to human activities. People dig along its slopes and build shacks there, weakening the dam."

"Also, they put up haystacks and plant banana trees along with storing food grains at home, all of which attract rodents. These rodents dig holes in the embankment and the water seeps through those during floods. The government is later required to carry out repair work."

When the massive task of keeping the embankment in good repairs cannot be fulfilled, the weaker parts of the dam crack, allowing the river water to flood the nearby localities.

Not enough help is available to address the problems with the embankment during the monsoon season, said Mahbub. The local authorities mostly engage contractors to make the emergency repairs while paying them later for their services.

"This time around, repair work worth Tk 100 million was conducted to plug the holes over 45-km area of the embankment in Bogura. The dues are yet to be paid."

Plans for a Tk 10 billion project have been submitted to the Planning Commission to widen and raise the height of the vulnerable 45-km stretch of the embankment, he said.

"We are trying to refurbish the entirety of the 217-km embankment, which will cost around Tk 700,000-800,000 per metre."

While visiting the 45-km stretch of the embankment from Pakulla, Sonatala to Pukuria at Bogura's Dhunat Upazila, bdnews24.com found rows of homes lining the areas. Many have planted banana trees on the embankment.

The Jamuna on the other hand, has been breaking its banks and moving west. The Jamuna was some distance away when the embankment was constructed. But now, a new temporary barrier had to be constructed to the west of the embankment as the river closes in.

The accounts of the local representatives in Bogura paint a stark picture of how far west the Jamuna has moved over the years.

During the 1960s, the river used to flow on the east of Chukainagar, Khabunia and Jontarpara, said Chukainagar Union Parishad Chairman Shamsul Haque.

It moved 9 km west after the erosion of its banks, leading the authorities to build a temporary barrier there.

In the past, the embankment was situated 3 km away from Sariakandi Upazila Sadar, said Shamsuddin Jinnah, former chairman of Kajla Union Parishad. At that time, the river flowed east of Kajla, Deluabari, and Hat Sherpur village. Now the river barely half a kilometre away from Sariakandi Upazila Sadar.

A temporary barrier has been built along the banks to prevent the Upazila Sadar from being overrun by the Jamuna.

The river banks in the western part of Sirajganj have similarly eroded away.

The embankment in Chhongachha Union had been breached on three occasions as the river veered westward, said Union Parishad Chairman Shahidul Alam. Parts of Pachthakuri and Shimla village also experienced river erosion during the floods this year.

Jalalpur Union had to battle river erosion on five occasions and is now almost engulfed by the river, according to Union Parishad Chairman Sultan Mahmud.

"The river Jamuna is now flowing within half a kilometre of the Union Parishad office. With further erosion, the union will cease to exist."

The government took different initiatives to prevent river erosion in Sirajganj. Some of these have been completed already while others are ongoing.At least 80 km of the 217-km embankment falls in Sirajganj, said Shafiqul Islam, executive engineer of Sirajganj Water Development Board. The embankment here is facing the same dangers as in Bogura.

The river erosion in this region has lessened in the wake of different initiatives, including the construction of a permanent embankment at Hardpoint and Shailabari in Sirajganj city, Belkuchi Upazila, four crossbars and spars at Sadar Upazila to change the course of the river along with capital dredging work in the river."

River erosion is still an issue at Shahjadpur Upazila, according to engineer Shafiqul. The government took the initiative to built an embankment there.

Project proposals have been sent to the authorities for the conservation of Kazipur Upazila's Shingrabari, Patagram and Baikhola and Shahjadpur Upazila's Brahmangram-Hatpachil and its adjoining areas, he said.

The proposals are awaiting the approval of the Planning Commission.

"Big pieces of lands surfaced after the permanent embankment was built. Shahid Mandir Ali Ecopark is being constructed on one of them while an economic zone is being built in Sirajganj Sadar."

No big project has been taken up to save the banks of river Jamuna in Bogura, said Matiur Rahman, joint secretary of Sarikandi Upazila Awami League.

In 1998, hardpoints and groynes were built at Kalitala, Dhighalkandi and Mathurapur at a cost of Tk 5.77 billion, he said. At least six spars were made in Chandana, Baisha and  Dhunat in the same year, each costing Tk 120 million.

"Some small repair work was done during the monsoon and a ring dam was made. No big project was initiated to prevent the erosion of the river Jamuna."