Apologies for the delay in the follow up, I’ve had a lot to do the past week or so and haven’t been great at prioritizing my time. I’m back on track now though. Continuing on the issue of Mayadip Island, the information compiled here is a combination of the aforementioned UN letter, my conversations with Shahed and his acquaintances, and what I was able to find in searches on Mayadip and human rights issues in the Meghna River.
The villagers of Mayadip were originally inhabitants of other areas but in a climate victims’ rehabilitation project during the 1980’s, called the Guchbogram Project, were relocated to the island and given small plots of land for housing and small-scale agriculture. The residents of Mayadip Island live well below the poverty line and with inadequate land to cultivate food; the island relies mostly on fishing as its number one source of food and work. Despite government assistance in relocation, the island was not provided with access to public services, including transportation to the mainland, safe drinking water, public health facilities, and public schools (Subornogram’s school is the only school on the island). While fishing provides a livelihood for many on the island, many others are forced to travel to Sonargaon’s more commercial areas to look for work, a trip that is 7 to 10 miles by boat then bicycle or on foot. This distance, cost and time required to travel, plus high rates of illiteracy on the island, make it even more difficult for Mayadip’s residents to find work.
Currently there are no public programs to provide any extra food for the island and malnutrition is a huge problem, especially among women and children. Three weeks ago, on my first trip to Mayadip, Shahed and I attended what I can only describe as a political press conference, where two members of parliament (MP) and some other high level local government officials talked about starting a program to provide meals for people on the island for six months, a sort of flagship experimental social program. The conference drew a lot of the island’s residents, young and old, and involved some well-orchestrated photo ops of MPs providing young kids with plates of food. While happy to hear that they might implement a program to help the island, I did my best to not be too skeptical or cynical of the whole charade. Time will tell whether this program is just political smoke or something that will actually be put into practice to help this underprivileged community.
Back to more of the important details. As mentioned previously, food security related to the illegal sand extraction is a very important and serious issue. Neighboring islands Nalchar and Ram Prasadar Char, of the Comilla district on the other side of the Meghna River, were almost entirely destroyed as a result of the sand extraction in recent years. The residents of those islands were forced to leave their islands and seek new places to live and new sources of food. Residents of Nunartek Island, adjacent to Mayadip, also face similar issues due to the increase of erosion as a result of illegal sand extraction. Villagers have allegedly already observed parts of the island slipping into the water and the extraction also negatively impacts local fish breeding, another threat to their food supply and way of life.
Around the time I arrived in Sonargaon, the local police confiscated two of the boats involved in the illegal extracting but within less than two weeks, a high ranking politician in the district ordered the boats released and they went right back to extracting sand. What makes the situation more complex, unfortunately, is that many corrupt local politicians and businessmen are involved in the sand extraction, because it’s an easy money making venture. Last week Shahed and I visited Mayadip with a journalist and cameraman from Narayanganj’s Electronic Media Diganta TV, who interviewed a number of Mayadip’s residents. Shahed hopes that the more media attention we can bring the island, the easier it will be to put pressure on politicians to stop the extraction. I’m working on some more detailed and comprehensive videos but I threw together this quick supplementary video showing the trip to Mayadip and some of the illegal extraction operations. Thanks for reading and thanks for watching. More on this situation as our work here progresses.
Posted By Matthew Becker
Posted Jul 19th, 2012