8 years after Aila, an intractable crisis of freshwater | Greenwatch Dhaka | The leading online daily of Bangladesh

8 years after Aila, an intractable crisis of freshwater

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Satkhira – Eight years have passed since the deadly Cyclone Aila struck the south-west of Bangladesh on May 25, 2009. But many of the scars it left behind still remain, which means the ‘ghost of Aila’ still haunts the people of the district. UNB news reported
Survivors continue to struggle with problems on numerous fronts, starting from a chronic scarcity of fresh drinking water to river erosion, unemployment, poverty and illiteracy. As it made landfall, Aila ripped through a large swathe of territory covering some 11 districts of Bangladesh.
The damage caused by the storm was particularly severe in Shyamnagar and Ashashuni upazilas of Satkhira, and in Koyra and Dacope of Jessore.
Thousands of people are living at risk as the coastal embankments of the Water Development Board have not been reconstructed completely. It carries disturbing echoes of the negligence shown by district officials in the Haor areas of the country’s north earlier this year, where the constant delays ultimately proved fatal.
Although the official death toll from Aila in Bangladesh never exceeded a relatively modest 190, it is important to note that this figure only conveys those that have been accounted for. Many more are believed to have simply disappeared without a trace.
Besides, the really lasting damage caused by Aila can be gauged from the number displaced, or left homeless in the wake of the storm. Nearly 1 million people lost their homes, and a year after the storm, 200,000 of them remained homeless.
Even more perniciously, Aila damaged most water infrastructure and contaminated all sources of surface water in southwestern Bangladesh, leading to a drinking water crisis that persists to this day.
Salt water from a tidal surge that followed the cyclone contaminated non-saline surface water, which means in most places, tube-wells don’t work because of salinity in the shallow and deep aquifer levels, leaving most people dependent on surface water for drinking and cooking.
People dependent on the region’s Sundarban, Kopotakkho, and Kholpatua rivers are leading miserable lives amid the crisis of freshwater. It has also led to a rise in water-borne diseases like typhoid, cholera and diarrhoea in the coastal region.
Former Chairperson of Gabura Union Parishad in Shyamnagar, GM Masudul Alam, said no steps have been taken till now to dig ponds and water bodies to reserve freshwater. Crops are being affected due to extra salinity in the soil of most of the areas.
Deputy Commissioner of Satkhira, Abul Kashem Md Mohiuddin, said both the government and NGOs alike are working to solve the crisis, especially the scarcity of pure drinking water.
In the past, the government has pinned its hopes for resolving the crisis on the proposed Ganges Barrage Project, alongside dredging the Gorai river, to increase the flow of fresh water and eventually overcome the salinity problem.
Yet the situation today is that the proposal sits and gathers dust in some government office, while the population affected by Aila in Satkhira, are forced to go miles on a daily basis just to drink some water.

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