Haor Basin – A Vital Wetland Habitat

The Haor Basin in the north eastern part of Bangladesh is a wetlands ecosystem considered to be of international ecological importance due to the extensive waterfowl population that uses the basin as its habitat. The saucer shaped shallow depression (also known as a backswamp) covers parts of the Sunamganj, Moulvibazar and Habiganj districts, and stretches as far as the Kishorenganj and Netrokona districts of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh lies in the floodplain of three major rivers and the Bengali language has a number of terms to describe different bodies of water. These include Baor, Haor, Jheel and Beel. The Haor Basin consists of about 400 haors and beels (small ponds with static water), and includes rivers, streams, irrigations canals, and vast areas of seasonally flooded cultivated plains.

The Haor Basin is estimated to stretch over an area of between 4450 square kilometers and 2.5 million hectares. It is further estimated that the total area of haor-type wetlands throughout Bangladesh exceeds 8 million hectares. The Haor Basin is surrounded by the mountain ranges of India, with Meghalaya to the north, Tripura and Mizoram to the south, and Manipur and Assam to the east. Due to the unique characteristics of the Haor Basin, anaerobic conditions inhibit normal plant growth and only the plant groups known as hydrophytes have adapted to thrive there. Fishing is the main income-generating activity for the local people.

Although a large area around the Haor Basin has been exploited by man, mainly to fulfill fuel needs, the Haor Basin itself has protected status as a Ramsar site under the Ramsar Convention, which provides for the protection of wetlands. A number of Government bodies are working together in the interests of preserving the wetlands environment, of which the Haor Basin is one of the most significant. Approximately 207 species of birds either live in or visit Bangladesh and the Haor Basin is a destination of choice for a large number of these birds.

Recognizing its unique beauty, the Haor Basin is steadily becoming a popular tourist attraction in Bangladesh. In winter the Haor Basin is home to thousands of migratory birds and is an ideal time for bird-watchers to visit.