Sufia Khatun, a 70-year-old widow, has been living in Charmondolia village of Dhanshalik union in Noakhali's Kabirhat upazila for many years.
She built a semi-pucca house on an acre of land on the south side of Algi canal about a year and a half ago. She spent three months in the new house with her five children.
Within a few days, Sufia's dream house, which was built with her whole life's savings, was lost to erosion of the canal.
Not only Sufia, around 3,000 families lost their homes in the last one and a half years due to serious erosion of the canal. They are now spending their days in huts of other people.
Due to erosion stretching a nine-kilometre area, the canal devoured seven bridges and culverts, shops, crop lands, fish enclosures and nurseries. Many of them have relocated their houses two to three times, thanks to erosion of the canal. The canal has again come near their homes.
A total of 1000 more families are in fear of losing their homes during the ongoing monsoon season, including Char Mandolia Government Primary School, mosque and madrasa.
There is an allegation against the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) for unplanned digging of the 'Char Algi Canal' at Dhanshalik union in Kabirhat upazila of Noakhali. Erosion started on both sides of the canal due to the entry of tidal water from adjacent Rivers Meghna and Bamni. At present, the canal has apparently turned into a river.
Locals said initially a narrow drain was dug to drain out excess water during the rainy season. Then in 2006 the drain was officially widened. In 2009, the canal was widened to 30-foot. Then, without completion of the sluice gate, in 2020 the BWDB expanded the 30-foot canal to a width of 90-foot and a length of about nine kilometers.
After the canal expansion, the erosion started on both sides due to the inflow of tidal water from the rivers Meghna and Bamni. In the last one and a half years, the canal devoured about 900 acres of agricultural lands, betel nut and mango orchards, vegetable fields and fish enclosures. At present, the width of the 90-foot canal is 300-foot, they added.
Talking to victims, it was known that Paddy production per acre was about 45 to 50 maund, whose market price was Tk40,000. Thus, paddy worth Tk3.60 crore was produced in 900 acres of land every year. But the canal devoured their lands in the last one and a half years.
The locals complained that they were in dire straits due to the unplanned digging of the canal and the cutting of the embankment in collaboration with the local union council chairman and the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB).
However, the BWDB blamed the local UP chairman and locals for the ongoing situation; although the chairman refuted the allegations against him.
According to the BWDB, canal excavation work began last year before the work of sluice gate was completed. So a dam was built between Algi canal and Bamni river to prevent the tidal water. Last year, people in the area, including the chairman, cut off the dam on the pretext that and houses and crop lands next to the dam were being damaged due to flashflood. As a result, tidal water begins to enter the canal. The work of that sluice gate has been completed this year.
Victims said the canal was dug to drain water during the rainy season and to facilitate irrigation during the dry season. It now becomes 'To bring a calamity by one's own imprudence', a bengli proverb, for the locality.
Local Sahab Uddin said one night, during low tide, his nursery went into the canal with all the plants.
One Abdul Halim said for the canal, about 3,000 people on the north side of the Charmondalia village are isolated from the main portion. Although there are primary schools, mosques and madrasas on the south side, it is not possible to send children there from the north side by boat at risk. Since the shops are on the south side, they have to cross the canal more than once every day.
The victims demanded compensation for the loss of houses and lands and preventing the erosion of the canal as well to protect the houses and crop lands.
Md Tanvir Newaz, assistant teacher of Madhya Charmondolia Government Primary School, said some parts of the school playground have already washed away into the canal. The school will be at risk of washing away if the authorities concerned do not take immediate action to prevent it.
Dhanshalik Union Parishad chairman Yakub Nabi said the locals themselves cut the embankment as the water was stagnant in the canal. The higher authorities of BWDB have been informed about the erosion of the canal. Work will be done jointly to solve the problem quickly.
Mohammad Nasir Uddin, executive engineer, Noakhali BWDB, said the chairman and local people cut the embankment to drain out the flow of water last monsoon, creating the present situation.
He said a closure will be constructed in the river Bamni after the ongoing rainy season, at a cost of Tk19 crore. Once the closure construction is completed, this problem will no longer exist.