DHAKA (Reuters) - Farmers who lost their homes and crops when a devastating cyclone battered Bangladesh's low-lying coasts about six weeks ago face a new problem from migratory birds that swarm into the country by the thousands every winter. "They are welcome guests and we do usually enjoy their presence," said Mohammad Shahabuddin, a local council chairman in the Bhola district on the coast.
By Ruma Paul
DHAKA (Reuters) - Farmers who lost their homes and crops when a devastating cyclone battered Bangladesh's low-lying coasts about six weeks ago face a new problem from migratory birds that swarm into the country by the thousands every winter.
"They are welcome guests and we do usually enjoy their presence," said Mohammad Shahabuddin, a local council chairman in the Bhola district on the coast.
"But this year the birds are making our struggle to survive following the cyclone more difficult," he told Reuters.!ADVERTISEMENT!
"The birds are destroying our seedbeds by eating the soft and tender saplings before we can replant them in the croplands," Shahabuddin said.
As the winter that started late last month gets chillier by the day, the number of migratory fowl is increasing.
"We really don't know what to do and how to drive them away," Shahabuddin said.
Tens of thousands of birds of various species fly from as far as Siberia to escape bitter cold and bask in a warmer climate in Bangladesh.
Species include hawks, swallows, shrikes, loons, ducks and geese.
They take temporary refuge in the country's vast rivers, lakes and marshes, and feed on fish, green leaves and grasses.
But Cyclone Sidr, which struck Bangladesh coasts on November 15 with winds of 255 kph (150 mph) and a 5-metre (yard) surge had washed away almost everything, including rice and other crops in the fields.
It also killed more than 3,300 people, made millions homeless and left a trail of devastation that officials and aid agencies say will need months or a year to be healed.
Cyclone survivors on the islands and in riverside villages said they faced an immediate problem of food and were losing hope for an early harvest as the migratory birds were eating their seedbeds.
Fishermen said fish were depleted in the waters along the coasts following the cyclone and surge, forcing many fish-eating fowl to change their diets for survival.
The farmers say they cannot kill the birds as Bangladesh law prohibits killing or capturing "guest birds."
"It's really a big problem for us," said Mohammad Belayet Hossain, deputy commissioner (administrator) of Bhola, about 250 km (155 miles) from the capital Dhaka.
"We suggested farmers to guard their fields as we have no technology to protect them," he told Reuters.
Mohammad Dastagir, another local council official in the district, said farmers try to scare away the birds by shouting and beating tin-containers, and sometimes by making fires.
In some places, farmers also put up scarecrows made with straw and bamboo, but it does not work after a few days as the fowl get used to the scene, said the islanders.
"Migratory birds also damaged rice plants in the previous years, but this time we are more concerned as we really need to yield rice in the shortest possible time, so that our families are not hungry," said Abdul Malek, a farmer.
Rice is the main staple in Bangladesh, home of more than 140 million people.
(Additional reporting by Aroop Talukder in Barisal; Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Jerry Norton)