As evening falls on the banks of the Meghna, darkness does not descend. Instead hundreds of boats light up the waters like fireflies. The lights spread, weaving and bouncing, along the water. There is a silent revolution happening in the Meghna River where fishermen have learned to harness the power of the sun.
Alamgir, a boatman in the Meghna River in Laxmipur, installed a 50-watt solar power panel five years ago to use electric lights on his boat at night. Before that, he used to light kerosene lamps at a princely sum of Tk1,500 per month.
The kerosene lamps were very vulnerable during inclement weather, including rains and storms. The solar panel means he no longer has to worry about the elements.
Furthermore, he can now use three lights and a fan.
Alamgir is among thousands of fishermen in the Meghna River in Laxmipur who have rediscovered their fishing life with the use of solar power. Most of the boats on the river have high powered lights, with the fishermen also boasting smartphones and various electric products.
The fishermen now also enjoy movies and watch movies in the middle of the river to pass their idle times, something unimaginable two decades ago.
Ibrahim, a boatman, said, "We now use solar power to charge mobile phones and other electrical products. We use various electric lights in the boat. Such lights are also used on the fishing nets to protect those from other vessels."
Yusuf Majhi, a fisherman who was sitting inside the boat, said, "Boat collisions and subsequent casualties were frequent in the river even six to seven years ago. Now, most of the boats have several lights, including signal lights, which prevent such accidents. The use of electrical products has provided us security, among other facilities."
The use of solar power and electric devices have brought a transformation to the monotonous life on the Meghna River.
Md Abdur Rob, president of Tanki Bazar Fish Ghat in Ramgati Upazila, said, "The fishermen of the river have been using solar power for the last 10-12 years. As a result, they do not have to worry as much as before. Fishermen use a variety of modern technology to catch fish at night. Now, it would be impossible for them to pass a day without solar power."
According to people concerned, this silent revolution has created a business of electric products beside the Meghna River in the area with a monthly sale of more than Tk1 crore.
Jasim Hawlader, an electronics trader from Motirhat Bazar and an advisor to the Laxmipur District Telecom Association, said, "At first, the non-government organisations [NGOs] gave solar power to the boats in the river six to seven years ago. It made a revolution in the life of the fishermen. Currently, the NGOs are not involved in it anymore. They have been replaced by other companies.
"Around 270 telecom and electrical equipment shops have been set up along the 50-kilometre stretch of the river from Majuchaurirhat Ghat on the Meghna River to Tanki Bazar in Ramgati. They mainly sell electrical goods to the fishermen," he said.
"Each of these shopkeepers sells electrical products worth Tk5,000 to Tk50,000 per day to the fishermen. Their monthly sales are more than Tk1 crore," he added.
Kalam, a fisherman in the Char Kalkini area, said, "A boat needs 10-15 types of electrical equipment including solar panels, batteries, chargers, charge controllers, fishing lights, job lights, watch lights and ordinary lights."
According to Codec, a local organisation, about 3,000 Bede families are living in boats in the Meghna River in Laxmipur and they have also begun using solar panels.
Dulal Sutradhar, former officer of Grameen Shakti Solar, Laxmipur branch, said, "The fishermen of the river got the first opportunity to use electric lights mainly through Grameen Shakti Solar. Through a special project, Grameen Shakti delivered electricity services to isolated chars in the coastal districts including Laxmipur."
According to the Office of the Senior Fisheries Officer, Laxmipur, the boundary of the Meghna River in Laxmipur district is around 88km where about one lakh fishermen are involved in fishing.
According to the Department of Fisheries, the number of registered fishermen in Laxmipur is 50,252. About 3,000 fishing trawlers approved by the authorities and several thousand small boats are regularly used for fishing purposes in the Meghna River in Laxmipur.