Half of the canals in Dhaka, which were once the lifeline of environmental protection and natural drainage system, have deadened while remaining ones are struggling for their survival. Grabbing and dumping of garbage into the canals have been attributed to their loss of existence, exposing the city dwellers to innumerable woes and hindering them to lead a healthy life.
It comes as a great shock to city dwellers when they come to know that about three to four decades ago, the Dhaka city was blessed with the flowing of fresh water in more than 50 canals. Now, only 26 canals exist in reality in a moribund condition while most of them have lost their water flow owing to unabated encroachment of different entities, pollution and negligence of their protectors.
While visiting city’s different areas, this correspondent found most of the existing canals with no water flow, and become the breeding grounds of mosquito. Some canals looked like dustbins and some like narrow drains, and pollution level reached so high that foul odor was spreading all around.
Sources said that a large number of high rise buildings and business establishments have been developed by grabbing canals, water bodies and lowlands in the city in the capital Dhaka under the very nose of the authorities concerned. “Some real estate companies and local influential in association with the authorities concerned grabbed the city’s canals. We have already identified the grabbers. And we will publish a list containing the grabbers’ list immediately,” Dr. Muzibur Rahman Howlader, Chairman of National River Conservation Commission (NRCC), told The Bangladesh Post on Tuesday.
He added Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assured him of providing all sorts of supports to rescue the canals, water bodies and lowlands from the grabbers. “In this regard, the government’s political will, enforcement of law and proper plan are a must to free the canals and water bodies from encroachment,” he said.
Many initiatives have been taken to recover the capital’s 43 lost canals and many other wetlands to restore its natural drainage network.
“A series of meetings between NRCC and different stakeholders were held in this regard. I have held meetings with shipping ministry, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, city corporations and other stakeholders. All have been agreed to take drastic actions against the grabbers and free the canals, water bodies and lowlands from them,” he said.
According to a 2004 report of Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA), there were about 46 canals in the government list at that time (2004) though there were 65 canals in its map about 40 years back. “We obtained map of the city canals. We are in coordination with two city corporations, Rajuk and other agencies, including law enforcement ones, to work out an effective plan to evict the grabbers in phases,” Dr. Muzibur Rahman Howlader said.
He said canals and water bodies will have to be recovered not only for getting rid of waterlogging, but also for ensuring the natural balance of the city and protecting its environment keeping pace with the development and urbanization spree. Although WASA and city corporations had earlier taken initiatives to protect last 26 canals from the encroachers but their initiatives did not yield any result.
Once the drive against canal encroachers is over, canals get encroached again due to lack of monitoring and unabated dumping of solid waste into the canals, experts and city dwellers’ say. In Manda, Mughda, Khilgaon-Basabo, Badda-Shahjadpur, Maniknagar and Madartek areas, this correspondent found the width of the Manda canal got very narrow and flow of water of the canal reminded all of a drain.
Besides, the water colour of the Manda canal is jet black which is continuously spreading foul odor. Apart from this, garbage from kitchen markets and households are also being dumped into the canal. When asked, Sumon, a shopkeeper near Manda canal area, said that dustbin is about a kilometer away from here, so most of the people dump garbage into the canal.
Robiul Alam, a resident of Manik Nagar, said that Manik Nagar was a marshy land during the 1970’s with a good flow of clean water in the Manda canal. During the recent visit to the Baistake canal, this correspondent found this canal narrow and was encroached at different points. Mohammad Alamin, a resident of the area, said the canal was around 100 feet wide, which was reduced to even five to seven feet at different points.
Ariful Islam, a resident of Kallyanpur area, told The Bangladesh Post that “The Kallyanpur canal is filled up by garbage with plastic and polythene bags. We do not walk by the side of the canal due to bad stench.” He also said, “I saw that the government once cleaned this canal about 16 years ago, when the width of the canal was found to be 30 to 40 feet. But now it is occupied by many entities”.
The Jirani Khal turned into a breeding ground for mosquitoes and source of water logging in the areas of Madartek and Basabo areas as several roads were built right through it, thereby obstructing the water flow. Pills of garbage have been dumped into the Khilgoan-Basabo canal and turned it into a dead water channel.
Abu Naser Khan, Chairman of Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba), told The Bangladesh Post that “Dhaka can be saved only if the canals of Dhaka City are saved. Dhaka WASA should clean the canals regularly and the two city corporations and other concerned authorities should conduct drives against encroachers.”