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     Volume 4 Issue 57 | August 5 , 2005 |

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Special Feature

The Story of Bijoy Beribandh

MORSHED ALI KHAN, back from Kishoreganj

For the 1.8 lakh people in 22 villages of Itna, Mithamoin and Azmiriganj areas of Kishoreganj and Habiganj districts, a 34.26 kilometre- long submersible embankment has changed their lifestyle, bringing with it prosperity and happiness.

The 'magic' dyke, built in an incredible period of 75 days, has enabled them to bring home their harvest of paddy from 12,576 acres of land, that goes under water with the very onset of the monsoon. According to villagers in Itna, within the last seven years before the dyke was in place, farmers lost five consecutive harvests to flash floods, which amounts to an estimated loss of more than a hundred crore taka. The repeated loss of harvest left such an economic vacuum for the entire population that many sold their ancestral homes and migrated to Dhaka.

It was during the floods of 2004, during a relief distribution programme, that Dr Jafrullah Chowdhury, the project coordinator of Gonoshasthaya Kendra, and his senior officials first heard from the people of this remote locality. Dr Chowdhury said that the entire population of the area, including all political quarters, agreed that if they could 'delay the flooding' by two to three weeks, the harvest could have been saved.

Men and women in Koronshi, Boroalgapara and Chairgram explained how they instantly offered their overwhelming support for a dyke that would save their sole yearly harvest. But they said the floods also brought huge fish resources on the vast plains and thus the dyke had to be submersible, allowing fishes to come.

Armed with an all-out local support and Tk 3.19 crore provided by the flood recovery programme of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) the Gonoshasthaya Kendra launched the dyke building on February 8 this year.

Realising the immense potential of the submersible dyke, the local big and small landowners readily offered their land on which the four-foot high and about 30 feet wide dam was planned. This spared the Gonoshasthaya of the biggest hurdle of any development work in the country -- which is huge legal and administrative complications related to land acquisition and compensation.

"We all forgot our differences and participated in building the dyke. Men and women worked day and night with the determination to complete the bandh before the monsoon set in, and this year every person of this area wears a smile," said Ramzannessa, a female Member of the Daki Union Parishad.

According to local people, on an average, every day over 4,000 men and women worked to build the 34.26 kilometre-long embankment that winds its way through clusters of villages in the plains or haors of this region.

For many people of the 22 villages it was like participating in a festival. Mozon Sardar of Chargram said that he was the leader of about 55 male and female day labourers during the period of dyke building.

"Nothing like this has ever happened in this part of the country before and we worked extra hours knowing that what we were doing was for the best of our future," Mozon said smilingly.

After an amazing 75 days and a total cost of only 2.15 crore taka, the submersible embankment, popularly known as the Bijoy Beribandh or Victory Embankment, was completed by the end of April. To the utter relief of thousands of people the yield of paddy was saved.

The magic dyke built in only 75 days has enabled them to bring home their harvest from 12,576 acres of land

According to local people, the project represented the people's heart. A villager of Koronshi, Nurul Islam told this correspondent that in Netrokona the government took up a project to build an embankment smaller than Bijoy but the cost was several times higher.

The Bijoy Beribandh has its problem too. During the current flood season the rushing waters from the Meghalaya has significantly damaged the freshly laid embankment at several points. Now the landowners are planning to raise their own funds for the repair work, which has to be completed as soon as the water recedes.

Moreover, in the process of building the dam, about 50 small landowners lost the last bit of land they possessed. In these cases Fazlur Rahman, a local leader and a former Member of Parliament, has pledged to compensate these people with land provided by the rich landowners.

With the rise of land prices following the building of the dyke, the rich landowners are now reluctant to give away any land. Fazlur Rahman who is also the Secretary of the Krishak Sramik Janata League said he would try to solve the problem by August. "Some brokers are hampering the process but we are hopeful of a solution soon," he said.

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