Tackling River Bank Erosion- Achievement and Challenges

Riverbank erosion, one of the major natural disasters in Bangladesh, causes untold miseries every year to thousands of people living along the banks of the rivers of Bangladesh. Bank erosion solely has rendered millions of homeless and has become a major social hazard. A substantial part of slum dwellers in large urban and metropolitan towns and cities is victims of riverbank erosion.

The rivers of Bangladesh are very active and morphologically dynamic. As a result some parts of the country is very susceptible to river bank erosion. The unpredictable process of erosion creates dramatic consequences in the lives of people living in those areas. This study was conducted in Chandpur town to assess the magnitude of river bank erosion in this area. The study reveals the existing vulnerable conditions of the people living in this area. It focuses the socio-demographic profile of the victims to measure the effect of river bank erosion (RBE). A significant proportion of the victims are compelled to leave their original homestead plot and take shelter in other places due to bank erosion. In fact, the RBE has identified as the leading cause of increased level of unemployment, poverty and landless people which substantially create negative impact on the entire economy of the country.
Riverbank erosion is one of the most unpredictable and critical type of disasters that takes into account the quantity of rainfall, soil structure, river morphology, topography of river and adjacent areas, and floods. Such calamity took tolls less in lives but more in livelihood as agricultural land and homesteads along with other livelihood options that are evacuated. The study was conducted in the most vulnerable regions of Bangladesh (i.e., Natun bazaar and Puran bazaar area of Chandpur town under Chandpur Sadar Upazila of Chandpur District) due to riverbank erosion. The study tried to find out the effects of riverbank erosion on livelihood and its associated displacement. The study employed both primary and secondary data sources to find out the effects. Primary data were collected through semi-structured questionnaire from households of the study areas using purposive random sampling techniques to understand the adverse effects of bank erosion

The study findings revealed that Riverbank erosion is a common feature at Chandpur town. As the study area, Chandpur town stands on the bank of Meghna River and at the confluence of mighty Padma River and Meghna River, the combine flow of these two rivers caused severe erosion to this town. Already some parts of the town have devoured into river bed due to erosion and the Puran (old) Bazaar is now under threat of river erosion. Erosion by Meghna River takes an alarming situation during the monsoon period when huge flood water comes from upstream.

There are various reasons of river bank erosion at Chandpur town. Respondents identified several causes of river bank erosion for example river current, act of god, corruption, soft soil, location, poor management, lack of dredging, insufficient structural measures etc. Among them river current is thought as the main reason of river bank erosion in the study area. The intensity of riverbank erosion compare to 20-25 years before varies with time. Respondents have mentioned several reasons like dumping of C.C. blocks, dredging activities, reduction of river flow etc. for the variation of river bank erosion. Majority of the people believe that due to dumping of C.C. blocks, the intensity reduced significantly. But on the other hand river bank erosion at some places has also increased manifold.

Thus Riverbank erosion occurs regularly along the Meghna River and acutely hampers the lives and livelihood of the people of Chandpur town and also impaired the national economic development of the country as well. Riverbank erosion has an adverse impact on livelihood as homesteads are destroyed, cultivable lands are wiped out and employment opportunities are reduced. The severe impact of bank erosion is the loss of homestead that makes the population more vulnerable to live a descent life. When erosion strikes, people have no option left behind them except bearing the losses. They never change location of their homestead before the erosion takes place. The main reason behind such behaviour is that they have little earnings that never allow them to replace their homesteads before it totally collapses. Whenever they loss their agriculture land with crop the situation become worst. A rich person becomes poor within a moment due to loss of his crop land. In most of the cases, homesteads in riverbank areas are located after the agricultural fields. Wiped out of homesteads implies that the family or individual lost the total assets. Such losses push them to displace in such a place where little or no opportunity remains to survive.

It has been observed that people who live in riverbank erosion prone areas are mostly poor and do not get enough opportunity for education. They have to struggle hard for their livelihood and have less time for schooling. People in the erosion prone areas are mostly poor as majority of them were found as the direct victims of riverbank erosion at Chandpur town. The study found that the economic condition of the respondents is poor to moderate. A vast majority of them are in the income group of 5,001-10,000 BDT. A few people are small scale businessman working nearby the riverbank and have to move their business location due to the RBE. Though most of them are involved in small level business or worked as day labour they love their birth place and hardly want to leave the place whatever the impact of river erosion is. The study area is found severely affected by the RBE frequently in various ways such as home, business, industry, agriculture, and transport infrastructure etc. but their home/house is the highly vulnerable. The living condition of the people near riverbank is severely affected by the recurrent RBE of the study area and majority of them are unable to move any where though there occurs severe riverbank erosion regularly. The primary reasons for living in the study area are parent’s land, livelihood, and or safe place due to construction of embankment or river training works.

As mitigation measures, the Government have taken several initiatives to protect Chandpur town like C.C. block dumping, revetment works etc. That is why a significant portion of people feel that it is not more risky than before. Contrary to this a large portion still considers Chandpur town is risky to river bank erosion. Due to change in river course, inappropriate mitigation measures, frequent failure of river bank protective works, and formation of charland etc. people feel even more risky than before.

the survey revealed that the initiatives so far taken by the Government to mitigate riverbank erosion in the study area are not sufficient. Various organizations have taken measures on adhoc basis only to tackle river bank erosion which are not enough.

It is identified that BWBD is the main organization responsible for the protection of river bank erosion. According to respondents BWDB has taken mitigation measures like block dumping, embankments, sandbag, revetment works and dredging etc. BIWTA is responsible for the maintenance of river port (protecting lauch ghat). Local administrations specially have taken care on relief and rehabilitation works etc. It appears that different organizations namely BWDB, LGED and BIWTA took major initiatives like Block dumping, Embankment and City Protection Works etc to reduce the RBE. Among these three initiatives, Block dumping is the largest and done by BWDB. Respondents’ opined mostly poor to moderate performance of different organizations in taking mitigation measures of river bank erosion.

Regarding the responsibility of maintenance of riverbank erosion mitigation works most people think that it is the responsibility of BWDB and proper yearly maintenance of riverbank erosion mitigation works is not taking place due to Corruption, Lack of fund, Poor management, Lack of political commitment etc.

It is observed from the study that the initiatives taken by the Government were not enough to mitigate riverbank erosion. Majority of respondents have the similar perception regarding the mitigation measures. There are lots of reasons behind this perception. Among them corruption, inappropriate structural measures, lack of proper maintenance works, and lack of peoples participation in mitigation measures etc are notable. Major reasons in taking inappropriate measures are administrative corruptions, inappropriate structural measures, and lack of proper maintenance works.

The people gave various suggestions on the improvement of mitigation measures like Need of honest political leaders or strong political commitment, Need of Army deployment, Need to enhance the capacity of BWDB, Need consultation with Local people, and Need Regular river digging/dredging etc. They also emphasized the inclusion of community people while taking any initiatives because they know their problems very well than any other outsiders. They have also mentioned the importance of river dredging which can bring very effective result very shortly.

From the discussion it has been found the impacts of RBE are severe but the mitigation measures are not good enough to overcome the situation. Though government has also taken several initiatives to control RBE, people are not satisfied with the current practices. Mitigation measures have been taken in most cases immediately after the disasters and focusing on structural measures and relief provisioning. Very little attention has been paid in developing non-structural and self-help strategies. Good political will and commitment is required to reduce the sufferings of people.

Nevertheless, prevention of riverbank erosion is not possible, yet the study area Chandpur town needs permanent solution to this recurrent disaster. The sporadic and unplanned measures taken in this regards do not serve the purpose. Well planned concerted efforts are needed for permanent resolution to the river bank erosion problems. Long term policies and strategies should be taken to cope up with the bank erosion taking into account the social and institutional adjustment measures.

The Government should explore the regional and international response along with its national level initiatives to have sustainable RBE mitigation measures at Chandpur town. Private sector investment should be encouraged in the development of industrialization, housing for the low-income people, and tourism potentials through Public Private Partnership to support rapid economic growth and riverbank erosion mitigation measures as well. Seminar/Worksops and Research works on RBE at Chandpur should be conducted to in order to have a sustainable solution to meet this challenge.