-Tons of industrial effluents and domestic wastes flow into them daily
-A beautiful relationship gone sour
NRPC work merely as a recommending body and lacks the power to implement any of its decision
Zahid Hossain Biplob: 102 rivers of Dhaka division are on the verge of death due to continued pollution, encroachment, lack of dredging and illegal sand lifting.
Once mighty the rivers now are in a moribund state as their flows has fallen drastically for widespread encroachment by land grabbers and unplanned government development projects.
National River Protection Commission in its recent report said though official records put the number of rivers at 102, many of those are almost dead and existence of some could not be found.
Dr Mujibor Rahman Howlader, chairman of the National River Protection Commission (NRPC) yesterday told Daily Industry that “The commission, which work merely as a recommending body and lacks the power to implement any of its decision.”
The commission’s duty is mainly to make recommendations and coordinate the role of various government agencies involved with rivers, he said, adding that they have drawn up action plan to restore the rivers around Dhaka on several ocassions but failed.
“There are over a dozen government agencies involved in different aspects of river management,” he further added.
According to sources, many rivers have already disappeared from the map. Many have shrunk to either narrow canals or large drains due to encroachment on their areas.
Illegal business establishments have sprung up on both sides of many of them.
The remaining survivors are crawling towards death as they are losing their might day by day, while the environment and biodiversity of the riverbed are being badly damaged. But, there is none to take proper and effective steps for the survival of the rivers, locals complain.
The National Task Force to Protect Rivers and the National River Protection Commission, set up to protect the rivers and facilitate the implementation of government directives, failed to make any impact, said rivers experts.
The commission in its report said that around 900 illegal structures have been built grabbing different rivers. Mostly of them are industries. Besides many of the rivers have been badly encroached, the report cited.
Officials of Bangladesh Water Development Board said, once the length of the rivers were stretched in long kilometers, but the span of these rivers are rapidly declined in recent years due to continuous siltation and grabbing, affecting the tradition, life-style and livelihood of local people.
The WDB official preferring anonymity blamed the reduced flow from the cross-border upstream regions, ill-planned or reckless interventions on the streams, encroachments and snapped links with floodplains for the physical death of the rivers.
Talking to Daily Industry, urban expert Prof Nazrul Islam, environment expert Dr Atiq Rahman and Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) general secretary, MA Matin said rivers are the source of our wealth, health and happiness. But it is a matter of great regret that these rivers are badly in danger.
Due to a lot of reasons these rivers are dying gradually. Some of the rivers have already died. Some of these reasons are directly or indirectly related to mankind and others are due to natural process, they observed.
“These rivers cannot find a natural way to flow and as a result they are dying. For these endangerment factors our ecosystem and environment have been worsening day by day. Many natural disasters, health hazards are being as common phenomena,” they said.
The experts lamented that the concerned ministry and departments has miserably failed to play any effective role in dealing with the alarming incidents of grabbing and enforcing the existing laws.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said “chronic failure of governance” could be seen as the reason for the destruction of water resources and the environment.
She alleged that saving the rivers was never a priority of the government.
Advocate ATM Mahbub Ul Alam, president of the Save the Rivers Movement said a forceful campaign was launched a decade and a half ago to save the dying lifelines of rivers surrounding Dhaka had evoked a dynamic response from the highest level. The courts also exercised judicial activism and interventions directing all concerned to restore the rivers around Dhaka to their original banks and create green belts along their banks. The battle against the grabbers and polluters has to go on until the last vestiges of illegal occupation are done away with.
Simultaneously, the government must energetically dredge up the heavily silted and plastic-filled riverbeds to make them flowing and navigable.
Finally, it is of utmost importance that we convince the Indian government of our vital interest in seeing the Joint Rivers Commission making a serious bid to resolve the outstanding water issues between our two countries.
Statistics say, since the independence, Bangladesh has lost more than three-fourths of the cheapest and easiest navigable waterways. The country had approximately 24,000 km of inland waterways after the independence. However, because of constant pollution, encroachment and scarcity of water, Bangladesh now has 3,865 km of navigable waterways during the dry season and 5,968 km during the rainy season. This is declining every year.