Save river, save Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a riverine country. From time immemorial, the rivers are inseparably related to people’s life, livelihood, custom and cul­ture. The rivers and water bodies are just like veins in a human body to people of the country. The waterways have been playing a vital role in carrying passengers and goods from one place to another from the ancient times. The inland waterways still provide better service in the country. Survival of the waterways relies on the rivers’ existence. The people’s livelihood and culture also rely on the rivers. If the rivers die, Bangladesh will die. So, it can be said that survival of the country relies on the rivers. The very existence of Bangladesh depends on water and sediments carried by transboundary rivers. However, the authorities concerned are not paying proper heed to the issue. The rivers and the tributaries must be saved for interest of country’s ecology, environment and biodiversity. So, we, the common people, and the authorities concerned should be aware to save the rivers in a bid to save Bangladesh.

According to data of Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), the number of rivers, including the tributaries, in Bangladesh is about 800. The rivers are dying one after another due to man-made obstacles. Many of the rivers have already dried out due to lack of attention, pollution, grabbing and implementation of unplanned projects. Although, almost all the rivers are facing destruction, we are trying to discuss present condition of only a few of the rivers.

I have special affection to the Surma River as I grew up on its bank. The river is part of my life. I swam in Surma and caught fish there. I passed my childhood and boyhood on the banks of the river. My heart cries when I see that the river is going to lose its life and aquatic beauty. The longest river and other rivers of Meghna basin as well as northeastern part of the country would have to face serious consequences after the construction of Tipaimukh Dam is completed. India is constructing the dam on the Barak, which branches off into the Surma and Kushyiara after entering Sylhet. According to water experts, the dam will choke the Surma and Kushyiara during dry season, affecting Bangladesh the way the Farakka dam is doing now. The dam will seriously hamper hydrology, agriculture and biodiversity in Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Sunamganj, Brahmanbaria, Kishoreganj and Netrakona that produce a bulk of the country’s rice. The whole of Meghna basin would become a desert due to the withdrawal of water from the Barak River. The Surma and Kushyiara must be protected for saving Sylhet region and adjacent districts from desertification.

Shari is another major river in northeastern part of the country. It originates at Mihmyndu of Meghalaya in India. The name of Indian part of the river is Mynthdu. It enters Bangladesh at Lalakhal point of Jaintiapur upazila. It falls into the Surma near Chhatok of Sunamganj. The Shari River is famous for sand, gravel stones and transparent crystalline water. From beginning of winter, water of this river turns into blue colour. The sand on riverbed is also seen with naked eyes. There is no second such river in Bangladesh of such transparent crystalline water. 

Indian Meghalaya Energy Corporation implemented ‘Leska Mynthdu Hydroelectric Project’ on the river to generate 126 megawatt electricity. It has already commissioned two units. A dam was constructed on the river ignoring the interest of Bangladesh. Hundreds of wetlands, haors, beels and other water bodies related to the river and its tributaries have been affected due to the dam. The renowned swamp forest Ratargul is also situated on the bank of the river. The river must be saved in the interest of saving the country’s only swamp forest, some other tourist spots in Sylhet, and ecology and biodiversity of the county’s northeastern part.

The Halda River is the largest natural fish breeding ground in Bangladesh and also sanctuary for Holday fish. This is the only pure Indian carp breeding field of Bangladesh, perhaps in South Asia. It flows through Chattogram. The river is being grabbed. Its water is now polluted. The pollution is getting worse day by day. Chattogram City Corporation dumps waste on Halda. Industrial waste is also dumped there. The authorities are silent on effluent dumping. According to a recent report of the Department of Environment (DoE), the discharge of industrial effluents into the Halda River is causing depletion of fish stocks. There are various types of activity going on along the banks of the river ranging from housing estates to tannery, paper mills and power plants. Untreated liquid industrial effluents are being discharged into the river indiscriminately, leaving the rivers biologically dead as the level of dissolved oxygen, which is must for the survival of fish and other aquatic animals, becomes very low. The LGRD has also blocked its flow with rubber dam. Effective steps must be adopted to take the polluters to task. The authorities should protect both the river and fisher folk communities that depend on the river.

The Baral River which flows through Rajshahi and some other districts has now become a waterless canal. The river is dying due to various projects. The BWDB constructed a flood control dam at Charghat in Rajshahi in 1985. The unplanned project is the main reason behind the current situation of Baral. The dam was constructed at the origin of the river, while two other dams were constructed downstream at Atghori and Chatmohor of Pabna. Two other sluice gates were constructed on the river. At one stage of the project, the authorities cancelled the dams, but death of the river could not be prevented. The river has to be saved. If the Baral survives, a major part of country’s northern part will survive.

Buriganga and Shitalakhya, the two rivers flowing through Dhaka and adjacent areas, are now completely polluted. The oxygen level of Buriganga becomes zero in dry season. The situation brings adverse impacts for fish. The situation of Shitalakhya is also not good. The two rivers are being polluted and are grabbed illegally on the river banks. If Buriganga and Shitalakhya die, Dhaka and Narayanganj will die. The two rivers must be saved.

Rivers follow some rules of nature. When it flows naturally, the river helps fish and other aquatic animals to survive. But many small and medium sized rivers of our country remain dry in April and May, the breeding period of fish. The river also protects people’s livelihood, culture and custom. If the width of a river is reduced, its flow will reduce. At one stage, the river loses its aquatic life. We have the necessary laws, rules and regulations over river. We have to follow the laws and rules. The government as well as the authorities concerned has the responsibility to implement the laws and rules to save the river and water bodies. It is good news that Bangladesh has adopted a long-term plan called the Bangladesh Delta Plan to manage water and land resources in the face of climate change. We hope that the water-related problems will be solved one after another following implementation of Delta Plan.

Ehsanul Haque Jasim is a Ph.D Researcher at Dhaka University