Written by: Mahanambrota Das and Milon Kumar Paul (Shushilan)
“Today my dream is going to accomplish. Pain is nothing if I get fresh water for my agriculture, livestock and household. I feel happy when I see crops in the field and food in the house” said a woman of Sekendarkhali village, celebrating the inauguration of the canal re-excavation works.
Polders in Southwest Bangladesh contain many canals that connect the fields to the rivers. Water entry to the polder to irrigate and exit of flood water to drain the polder is managed through sluice gates located in the dykes surrounding the polders. Such canals are also a feature of Sekendarkhali village (located in Barguna district). However, many years of mismanagement and lack of maintenance have led to siltation and a loss of canal function. Yet, these canals could also be storing water for irrigation in the Rabi season. Villagers report that now fields in Sekendarkhali remain fallow in Rabi and Kharif-1 season because of loss of the canal to act as a fresh water reservoir, lack of unity and misconceptions among local community (villagers). Besides, major relief activities after cyclone Sidr in 2007 struck Sekendarkhali have changed the people’s behavior to becoming receivers of donations, lethargic or inactive.
In order to address the problem, the villagers took a collective action approach. With initial support by Shushilan through the SIAGI project, they formed a Water and Silt Management Committee (WSMC) to build trust and harmony amongst each other. A constitution was developed to operate the WSMC. This committee advocated and negotiated with local government institutions, government officials and the wider village community to help the re-excavation activities of canal. They also created a fund of USD 8,750 and obtained a Non Objection Certificate (NOC) from the local administration to collectively utilize the natural resources (canal’s water and fishes).
An agreement was signed between the Union Parishad (lowest level local government Institution of Bangladesh), the NGO Shushilan and the WSMC to undertake the re-excavation activities with the goal of storing fresh water for agriculture interventions round the year through motivating the local community to contribute financially and physically.
The community has started re-excavating the canal over a length of 1227 m, 9.15 m of width and 1.37 m of depth for storing about 15 ML of fresh water. This can potentially service about 180 hectares of agriculture lands under Rabi crops cultivation. A monitoring committee has been formed by involving the local government officials, local community, academics, researchers and representatives of NGOs to look after the day-to-day activities. Total cost of the re-excavation activities is expected to be BDT 1,256,760, equivalent to USD 15,709.
The community has demonstrated their potential and ownership to utilize the natural resources for their betterment by reducing harmony gaps. Successful implementation of the canal’s re-excavation was due to the engagement of the local community, local administration, Shushilan and Bangladesh and Australian research institutions. This is helping the community receive social and technical support. Engagement of Union Parishad and local administration helped in managing local conflicts and obtaining agreement on the canal management and water sharing activities afterwards.