Stepping up for our riverine heritage

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Wastewater from the tannery estate flowing down to the Dhaleshwari river. (photo collected)

More than 230 rivers flow through present Bangladesh territory, leading the British when they came here to lend it the most quaint adjective ‘riverine’. The biodiversity they all nurture contributes to the protection of environment. It’s very important part of the water cycle, acting as a drainage channel for surface water, providing food and habitat for many of the earth’s organisms. 

People, who live in the river bank & surrounding, depend on the rivers for their livelihood and transportation purpose. Every river of Bangladesh benefits the environment and people in diverse way. The three main rivers of Bangladesh are Padma, Meghna and Jamuna. They are main source of flow of the river country,   resulting in the accumulation of fertile soil during the floods every year. Our soil is famously fertile, wherever you may find it. Farmers can use it in agriculture activity. Farmers in dry regions irrigate their cropland using the water carried by irrigation ditches from the nearby rivers. Like many other countries of the world, Bangladesh is moving forward in the field of Industrial development, developing a strong manufacturing sector, while services are also growing in tune with globalization Around 70 to 80 percent Industries mills, shops, and factories were built in rivers banks and deltas. If we look at two biggest cities Dhaka and Chittagong, a large number of industrial infrastructure have been established along the banks of Karnaphuli (Chittagong), and the Buriganga, Shitalakkhya and Turag in and around the capital. In recent times we havce seen the Buriganga and Shitalakkhya, both Dhaka rivers,  become heavily polluted as a direct result of industrialization.

Many large and small industries have been built around the banks of those two rivers. Industries use water for production, turning it toxic in the process, yet later release the toxic water into rivers without treatment. According to a survey by leading Dhaka think-tank BCAS, only 40% of the industries  take the trouble and expense of installing or even running an ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant) at their production facilities. Many of these factories continue to operate ETP only during the day, causing the rivers to lose their balance. The state’s incapacity in providing sewage treatment plants is another reason for river pollution. According to a survey conducted by the Movement to Save the Environment (POBA, from their Bangla initials), there lies a 13 feet deep layer of polythene at the bottom of the Buriganga, which has endured wanton abuse by residents of the country’s chaotic capital for as long as anyone can remember. Commercial cities like Chittagong are dumping their sewage waste into the rivers without any treatment, these contain heavy metals and human waste. Human waste contributes harmful pathogens in the water.  Industries in Chittagong, continuously polluting Karnaphuli water.  As a result, the rivers are losing their navigability, biodiversity, living aquatic habitat, and entire environment being damaged.

Tanneries discharge their liquid chemical and solid wastes into Buriganga which is coming from tanneries processing. As a result, Buriganga being polluting extremely. To save Buriganga tanneries has been transferred into savar. The transfer of Hazaribagh tannery industry to Savar has not been beneficial at all. Now instead of Buriganga the Dhaleswari rivers are being polluted. Due to sinking vessels carrying oil and commodity, the ecology of the river has been largely destroyed. According to POBA, 1500 rivers have been lost in the last one thousand years. These Rivers are not only being polluted, but also being affected by the intrusion. Rivers are dying and changed their direction. Rivers converted into like small water body in our country when construction work occurs around them. Thus many free-flowing rivers have now become reduced to trickles.

Rivers follow some rules of nature. If the width of a river is reduced by the intrusion, it may have an impact on the discharge it normally has. The natural volume of flow may reduce and also the depth might decreases. Many of our unplanned flood control projects contributed to the death of rivers slowly. The connectivity between the rivers, wetlands and floodplains has been obstructed by various activities of ours.

In this year, a study by Environmental Science Department of Stamford University Bangladesh in associate with Green Force (PoBA)  jointly analyzed that the parameters of the five rivers (Buriganga, Dhaleshwari, Shitalakhya, Balu & Turag) in and around Dhaka. The concentration of Salinity was 0.7-0.12 PPT and PH also increased which range from 9.1-10 where the standard value for inland surface water salinity is 0.5 and PH range 6.5-8.5.

Government of Bangladesh has constitutional recourse of punishing  persons or organizations who are responsible for the river-pollution, according to the Environment Protection Act, 1995. As per Article 9, if any institution leaves any kind of contaminated material in the river, then maximum imprisonment of 10 years or a fine of 10 lakh BDT or both. They can be punished for it.

The World Rivers Day is being observed in the country as elsewhere across the globe on Sunday. River lovers around the world, including NGOs are working in environmental organizations and students, studying in the Environment sectors, raise their voice on this day to save the rivers. POBA of course celebrates the day every year, often partnering with other organizations.

In saving our rivers, the strongest weapon we can possess would be a conscientious, aware and engaged citizenry. If we step up together, with long-term vision and commitment we can revive even the most diminished and exploited waterways.

Professor Dr. Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, Chairman, Department of Environmental Science, Stamford University Bangladesh

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 35
  • Environment
  • Issue 11
  • Dr. Ahmed Kamruzzaman Majumder
  • Stepping up for our riverine heritage

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