When the government is trying to include Hakaluki Haor in Sylhet as the country's third Ramsar site – a wetland site designated to be of international importance, it has kept shrinking as many beels have silted up, leaving biodiversity of the region and livelihood of local fishermen at stake.
So far, 21 out of 238 beels of this haor have silted up, with the rest soon to follow. Moreover, 281 out of 300 canals have disappeared and eight of the 10 rivers surrounding Hakaluki have become canals.
Environmentalists say it is already too late to protect the haor, but if immediate action is not taken, the entire biodiversity of the region will be threatened.
Hakaluki was surrounded by more than 300 small and large canals, but only 81 are currently flowing, according to a project in Hakaluki conducted from 2003-2018 by the Bangladesh Department of Environment and the Centre for Natural Studies.
The same is true of small rivers, which form the main lifeblood of the Hakaluki Haor, whose water flows through the Kushiyara River, west-north of the haor.
According to experts, mountains are the main source of water in these rivers; though a lot of silt deposits in beels and rivers every year, no excavation is done. During the dry season, the beels dry up beyond recognition, forming makeshift grazing grounds for cattle. Farmers even grow crops in some parts of the beels.
Asghar Mia, a farmer in Bhukshimil union, said the beels used to have plenty of water, and he used to catch fish. Birds used to flock here, but the beels have gradually silted up and now turns into a dry field in winter. According to the local administration, the water depth in Hakaluki Haor during the monsoon season ranges from two to six metres and the haor spreads to 24,700 hectares, compared to 18,000 hectares at other times.
Fishermen have been impacted the most by the filling up of the haor canal. Some fishermen from Sadipur village said the amount of fish is insufficient owing to the few beels now in existence.
As a result, due to arbitrary fishing in the beels during the dry season, very few mother fish are left. In turn, very few fish are available during the monsoon, thus jeopardizing the livelihoods of fishermen on the banks of the Haor.
Abdul Karim, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) Sylhet, said out of 150 species of freshwater fish in Hakaluki Haor, 112 species now survive. Of the 526 species of plants, 120 species of aquatic plants and reptiles are now almost extinct. About 200,000 people on the banks of the Hakaluki Haor depend directly or indirectly on this haor for their livelihood.
He demanded immediate action to protect the biodiversity.
Hakaluki Haor is one of the mother fisheries of the country. Sultan Mahmud, senior fisheries officer of the District Fisheries Department, said a large chunk of the annual demand for fish in Moulvibazar is fulfilled by Hakaluki. Of the demand for 43,000 tonnes, 14,000 tonnes of fish are produced annually in Hakaluki.
Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate, Shahab Uddin said he is aware of the loss of biodiversity and arrangements for excavation are underway.
Around 80% percent of this haor is located in Moulvibazar and 20% in Fenchuganj and Golapganj upazilas of Sylhet. In Moulvibazar, 8% is in Juri upazila, 60% in Baralekha and 12% in Kulaura.
Notable and important beels of Hakaluki Haor are Dula Beel, Chatla Beel, Chakia Beel, Futi Beel, Tural Beel, Tekuni Beel, Pinglarkona Beel, Paul Beel, Kayarkona Beel, Juala Beel, Balijuri Beel, Kukurdubi Beel, Chinaura Beel, Dudhal Beel, Mayajuri Beel, Katua Beel, Birai Beel, Rahiya Beel, Barjala Beel, Parjala Beel, Mushna Beel, Lamba Beel, Dia Beel, Garkuri Beel, Ranchi Beel, Palbhanga, Juri Beel, Malam Beel, which are some of the larger ones.