Abdur Rahman Sayed, a resident of Nalua village in Dhanshiri union of Kabirhat upazila of Noakhali has been living on his ancestral home for about 38 years. He lives with his wife, two sons and a daughter.
A section of Noakhali canal, about 25 km long and 150 feet wide, flows right beside Sayed's house. This canal became a curse for Sayed in 2019, when his three-year-old son Abir Hossain fell into the water of the canal while crossing it and died.
The width of the canal currently stands at about 300 feet as the tidal water is constantly entering into the canal from the nearby Meghna River. There is no permanent bridge over the canal. So, a bamboo bridge was built first on the canal and later it was replaced by a wooden one.
Not only Sayed's son Abir, but Monir Hossain (4) son of Alamgir and Mohan (3) son of Kamal Uddin of the same village also fell into the canal water while crossing the bridge. More than 50 locals, including school children, were injured at different times while crossing the canal.
At least 20,000 people in two villages of Dhanshiri Union are suffering due to lack of a permanent bridge. They are not able to use the Bir Muktijoddha Rafiq Ullah road for the lack of a bridge. However, authorities say a proposal has been submitted to the concerned ministry to build the bridge.
According to sources, people of no 1 and no 2 wards of the union built a 160 feet long bamboo bridge about 20 years ago on the canal to help people cross it, but due to the inflow of tidal water from nearby Meghna River, the size of the canal continues to increase every year.
At the end of 2017, a 270-280 feet long wooden bridge was constructed with the help of local people and traders on the canal. That bridge breaks down two to three times every year. Each time the construction of the bridge costs Tk 1.5 lakh. Thus, the repair of the wooden bridge has cost about Tk 14 lakh in last four years.
Concerned people believe that converting the wooden bridge into from a permanent concrete bridge will change the socio-economic condition of the people of the region and they have demanded fast steps by concerned authorities for that.
Nalua village in Dhanshiri union consists of two wards. Ward no. 1 is on the west side of the canal and ward no. 2 on the east side. About 20,000 people live in these two wards, including 560 families of the government's ‘Ashrayan’ project.
On the west side there is a market, 5 educational institutions, health complexes and various offices including NGO offices. About 500 acres of agricultural land is there on the east side, where paddy and vegetables are cultivated. It is possible to produce paddy worth Tk 25 million from that land each season.
However, due to the lack of bridges, it is not possible to take farming equipment including tractors and other machines for advanced farming and irrigation, to the west side of the canal. As a result, most of those lands remain uncultivated.
People of the area believe, when the communication system is better after constructing a permanent bridge on the canal, it would be possible to produce a huge amount of crops there. They demanded the construction of a permanent bridge over the canal quickly to improve the agricultural fields in the region.
Abdullah, a local resident, said about 20,000 people, including about 3,000 primary, secondary and intermediate students, cross the broken, risky wooden bridge every day amid fear and panic. In the dry season, the residents are able to move around a bit easily but, in the rainy season, most of the residents are stuck.
In case of emergency, the means of transportation are boats or makeshift banana tree-made rafts. Accidents have become daily incidents for people crossing the bridge every day. Since, ambulances cannot cross the canal; sick patients including pregnant women have to suffer a lot. Due to the entry of tidal water from the adjoining Meghna River, the lives of the people living in the canal area are at high risk, Abdulah added.
Local Abdur Rahim said people have been traveling on the 300-foot bridge over the Noakhali canal for more than two decades as they are deprived of a permanent bridge on the canal. Although they have several thousand acres of agricultural land, they are lagging behind in the production of agricultural products for the same reason.
Fahima Akhter, a student of Nalua Vaniharhat High School, said her books slipped and fell into the water several days ago after she slipped while crossing the broken bridge. About 7-8 months ago, on their way back from school, three students suddenly fell into the water and were
injured. Despite the risks, they cross the wooden bridge all the time to reach their educational institutes.
Nur Alam Parvez, former chairman of Dhanshiri Union, said the bridge collapses two to three times a year and for repairing it, they have to rely on local businessmen, residents and some people's representatives’ combined donations.
In last two years, Noakhali-4 MP and Upazila Chairman have allocated Tk 2 lakh in three steps for that purpose. Once the bridge is broken, it costs Tk 1.5 lakh to rebuild it, he added.
The last time a part of the bridge collapsed in mid-September this year. Nur Alam demanded a government allocated bridge over the canal as soon as possible instead of repeatedly repairing the wooden bridge at such a high cost.
Kabirhat Upazila Engineer of Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) Harshit Kumar Saha said, “We have inspected the site of the bridge and it is necessary to build a bridge in place of the wooden bridge. The construction of the bridge has been listed under below 100 meters bridge project in the union and village level. If the authorities approve the project, we hope to start construction of the bridge very soon.