River management in Bangladesh:a people’s initiative to solve water-logging
build low earthen dykes around the tidal flats to prevent tidalintrusion and wooden sluices to drain off surplus rainwater.
Their tenants then cultivated indigenous varieties of flood-tolerant and saline-tolerant rice, and reaped bumperharvests. After the harvest, the dykes and sluices weredismantled, and the people grazed cattle and fished in thetidal floodplains.Thus, the environment, eco-system and bio-system thatevolved in the coastal area were in balance. The problem ofcrop failure still existed, as dykes were not sufficiently highand strong. Opening the sluice gates was not enough andthe gates were weak. These were temporary structures andneeded repair every year.After abolition of the
system, the maintenanceof these structures became disrupted. As a result, the land-water management problems became serious and crop failureoccurred frequently. In 1959, to solve this problem, a bigprogramme of construction and maintenance of permanentpolders was undertaken by the then government. In theKhulna and part of the Jessore districts, 39 polders (1,014,100acres) were constructed (Aftabuzzaman, 1990).
The mainobjectives were to protect the arable lands from tidal inun-dation and flooding, and to increase crop production.In 1984, Dakatia
, a part of one polder becamewater-logged for the first time, due to rapid siltation of theSolmari, Hamkura and Hari rivers. Later this problem spreadto even more polders. Moreover, lands outside the poldersin the greater Jessore district went under water. This problemis gradually creeping to the northern part as well as in thesouthern part of the embankment area.
G E N E R A L S E C T I O N
Dyke: an embankment of earth and rock or a drainage ditch built to prevent floods.
Polder: an area of low-lying land, that has been reclaimed from a body of waterand is protected by dykes.
Effects of water-logging
Only an insignificant area of land is cultivable in the dryseason. Water-logging destroyed houses, disrupted commu-nication and the rhythm of daily life, killed off fruit trees andreduced the number of domestic animals. Because of water-logging, the fuel crisis became acute. The collection of woodfuel and drinking water became increasingly difficult; humanwaste was thrown into water in the absence of dry land andfarmers turned into fishers as agricultural lands weresubmerged. Many migrated to other areas as life becamedifficult to support. The pollution caused by the stagnantwaters created epidemics of water-borne diseases. Schoolsclosed and children were deprived of education. Hundreds ofthousands lost their occupations and became destitute.
The people’s initiative to address the issue
Fifteen years after the construction of the coastal embank-ments, water-logging began to emerge in the poldersupstream in this region. The people of the water-logged areapetitioned the authority to solve the problem. As the author-ity paid no heed to their grievances, people themselves tookthe initiative to organise and mobilise the community, anddevise plans for solving the problem. From their own experi-ence and observation, people identified the polders as themain cause of water-logging and began to present theirreasoned arguments for breaching or cutting away poldersto allow tidal flows. Their logic was that if tidal flows can bemade free, the navigability of the rivers will be restored, theenclosed lands will be free from water-logging, alluvium willaccumulate inside the polders, and as a result the level of landwill rise. The first manifestation of this logic was seen inSeptember 1990, when the polder of Dakatia
wasbreached in four places. This concept is called the Tidal RiverManagement (TRM) system.
The consequences of the people’s action and the value of popular wisdom
Through one of the four cuts made in the embankment,Dakatia
was again connected with the river Hamkura.Through regular tidal actions and the accumulation of allu-vium, the land formation process resumed. Within two yearsfrom 1990–1992, 2,500 acres of
(newly risen) landemerged. We saw rice being cultivated in the
lands inOctober 1992. Popular wisdom was reflected in the fact thatthe resumption of tidal action restored the balance that waslost when the supply of alluvium was cut off from the polderby the embankment.The experience has proved that if people take initiatives to
Flooded cropfield due towater-logging
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