Death of a wetland: Hakaluki haor in Sylhet is drying

by Naren Paul


Bangladesh is full of a lot of wetlands. There are about 1,14,160 hectares of beels, 1,92,367 hectares of haors and about 5488 hectares of baors in Bangladesh There are about 96 haors in the country. Most of them lie in the district of Kishoregonj, Netrakona, Kushtia, Habiganj Sunamganj, Moulvibazar and Sylhet. A great portion of Sylhet district consists of haors. Of them Tanguar, Haihaor and Hakaluki may be mentioned for their large area and utility. Of the haors Hakaluki appears to be the largest. Since time immemorial these haors are supplying us a large amount of fishes to meet our protein need. The Department of Fisheries says, in 1998-99 fiscal year total number of beels produced 69,850 metric tonnes and baors produced 3,536 metric tonnes of fresh water fishes. A Baor consists of several beels. So, the production of fish from the haor has been adjusted with the production of beels. The other attraction of the haors are different species of guest and local birds. Of the prisciculture birds Brahmani duck, Shelduck, Pintail duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Garjani, Shoveller, cotton teal and of the rodentivorous who eat rats are falcon, Marlin, Kestrel, Eagle, Harrier, Hawk Eagle arrive. The insect eaters-Swifts, Swallow, Martin, Shrikes, fly-eaters-Warblers, Thrush etc. of about 200 different species of guest birds have been registered to be moving in our wetlands. But now-a-days they are hardly found in the wetlands. Of the haors Hakaluki has been marked for the movement of record number of guest birds.

About 70-miles long Hakaluki lies in the middle of Kulaura, Rajnagar, Fenchuganj and Barolekha Upazillas of Sylhet district. It has it connection with the mighty river Kushirara. Seven or eight years ago a Sylhetti immigrant in America once came here to have a pleasure trip by a boat in the Hakaluki with two of his distant cousin sisters. A local video cameraman was accompanying them. High waves were swelling up and tumbling down in the water and they could not sail very far away in the middle of the haor due to the waves. The haor was then murmuring, sometimes bursting out its banks The boat was tossing and with the force of the waves and the splash of water swept over the boat and that drenched them absolutely. Soon they cut short their journey and returned to the bank. And while recently I contacted that cameraman to take some photographs of the haor, he first of all refused. Perhaps for fear of high waves. Anyway, I convinced him to go to Hakaluki. But while we reached there, we saw Hakaluki lying calm and still in a drying up condition. There is no high or any wave in the haor now. Now there is less water than it used to have in the previous years. Due to siltation in rivers, there is siltation in haors also. Standing on one side, one cannot experience high waves in the haor now. Like shoals in the rivers the bed of the haor is throwing up shoals. The boundary line of many people's plot of land would be seen. In the middle there is a mass of calm and still water. Fish experts say, the faster rate of emerging shoals in the bed of the haor and grabbing of land is a threat tot he existence of the haor. In near future, many experts opine, Hakaluki will turn into a huge beel like Chalanbeel lying in between Pabna and Rajshahi.

By tempo from Kulaura to Juri Continental Bridge one can have a journey to the haor. There is a bamboo Shanko (bridge) over the Jury canal. In front of the canal embankment once there was a range office of forest department. It is now an abandoned shed. No forest officer or haor guards sits there to look after the development of the haor. Since 1986 this range office has been remaining deserted. It is now a local cow shed in the area.

There are about 60 beels in the haor. Although inundated during the rains, the size of the plots grabbed by people is expanding day by day. Paying about 90 lakh taka the bidders are heard to take the ijara (lease) of the haor for this year. The lease holders have obtained the ijara (lease) of the haor for this year on payment of about Taka 90 lakh.

There is a three-year moratorium on catching fish from the haor. Those who have shares in the haor are entitled to catch fish. Decades back fabulous fishes like Boal, Ruhi, Katla, Air, Weighing in about 20 kg were caught. Now except small Koi, Shing, Magur, no big fishes are found in the haor.

Hakaluki is also known to have been the feeding ground of guest birds. Due to snowfall on their feeding ground in Russia and elsewhere in Europe during the winter the guest birds crossing thousands of kilometres arrive here in our wetlands to get some relief from the severe cold. Various species of birds land in the haor regions like Mymensingh, Netrakona, Kishoregonj, Tanguar, Hail haor and the surrounding areas. But record number of birds used to land in Hakaluki. Despite ban on poaching, the bird hunters catch them by setting nets or kith them with air guns. But now the number of guest birds has declined very much. Even in November no guest birds were seen flying over the haor. Perhaps for continuous hunting the guest birds have chosen other wetlands in India and Sri Lanka where they finds safe sanctuaries for them.

Biren Chandra, a local farmer told me that not only guest birds, but also local birds like Kalem, Kora, or Moor hen are not seen to be flying over this wetland now a days.

In order to prevent poaching of guest birds sign boards for halting the poaching of birds in the focal points of the city are seen. But nowhere at Hakaluki such signboards to save the birds have been seen. Even the signboards alone cannot make any impact on the minds of people. Many people in our country still have wrong ideas about the movement of these birds in our marshy lands. Their argument is that while moving in our wetlands these birds are devouring our fish fry. They also allege that these birds are carrying virus from foreign countries, so it will not be improper to kill them and feast on with their meat. But Dr. Noorjahan Sarker, Professor of Zoology, Dhaka University in a recent interview says, the plea that the guest birds are carrying virus is absolutely wrong. It has never been proved that they carry any virus. Besides, while they move in the beels and wetlands they feed on the dead small and for weak fry which were totally unnecessary for the healthy growth of other fishes. They never eat the essential fishes. The arrival of these insectivorous birds is usually during the months of September, October and November when there is severe attack of insects and pest on our paddy fields. They not only feed on the insects but swallow the weeds of the paddy plants and help the growth healthy paddy plants. These birds do us positive service worth millions of taka. Killing and poaching them would create an adverse effect on our environment. In international law poaching of migratory birds are strictly prohibited.

Instead of poaching we should protect them by creating public awareness or even by strictly enforcing law.

 Source:The Independent , Friday 5 January 2001