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14 March, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 14 March, 2018 01:28:45 AM
International Day of Action for Rivers

Rivers: lifeline of our economy

River Padma is turning into large virtual sandy deserts, in many areas, where people are able to travel on foot
Muhammad Munir Chowdhury
Rivers: lifeline of our economy

Rivers are lifeline of our economy. Bangladesh’s economy, development and growth are directly influenced by major rivers: Padma, Jamuna, Meghna, Karnaphuli and Halda. But in absence of regulatory biting, the rivers have been aggressively fallen under the clutches of encroachers and polluters which terribly disrupted morphological and ecological system. Rivers being most valuable resource and fabric have turned into heaven for the greedy polluters and grabbers.

The river Buriganga has been embracing death because of receiving all the industrial and human wastes which takes shape like a flow of coal tar. Everyday Buriganga is receiving 1.5 lakh cubic meters of liquid waste. River Padma is turning into large virtual sandy deserts where people are able to travel on foot instead of boat, travel by bullock carts instead of vessel. May be Padma River will be fit for vehicular traffic movement instead of marine traffic.

The 320 km long river Karnapuli, the heart of our economic lifeline has been severely squeezed by shoals, development of urban structures after entering into Chittagong city. The river Dhalashari, once free from pollution is threatened by a new challenge of pollution for shifting tanneries of Hazaribag. The CETP of the industries has been discharging waste water without proper treatment.

Even 30 years back, annual extraction of fishes from Padma  and its estuary was 10 thousand metric tons , which has fallen down to 1000 mt. Padma had 141 species of fishes, now it came down to 38 species. Tista has also been facing same consequences. About 90% fish production has been reduced due to squeeze of the rivers. Sundarban has been also affected for lack of sweet water and impact of saline water. The golden hilsha has been losing its free breeding area in our riverine zone. Such environmental catastrophe of rivers has caused serious impacts on irrigation, fisheries, navigation, forestry, ecology which is like squeezing bloods from body.

As Director (enforcement) I had launched enforcement drive against the polluters and grabbers simultaneously in the river Buriganga, Turag, Shitalokkha,Surma, karnaphuli. The rationale of the drive was to save the rivers from further doom. Compelling the factory owners to install ETPs and operationalizing the non-functional ETPs promoted some positive results. In our drives, we found very few numbers of industries were operating ETPs. Most of those had no ETPs at all, or were not technically sustainable. Huge amount of penalties were imposed, power and gas connection were snapped which was an alarming bell for all. The wrong perception of the polluter was that cost of running ETPs increased cost of production. From my enforcement drive, I found level of oxygen in certain parts of Buriganga and Shitalokhha rivers went down to zero making it very difficult for survival of aquatic resources. Most of the Industrial units had no ETP since 2010, taking advantage of institutional weakness of Department of Environment. The owners seem to spend more on mosques, orphanages, but less on installing ETPs-which jeopardized the rivers. Being socially responsible, but environmentally irresponsible is a hypocritical culture. In absence of Green Technology, the polluters became hidden billionaire by reaping the harvests of pollution. In fact, commitment to combat and control pollution is the question of governance. Without effective recycling and treatment plan, we won’t be able to address the issue sustainably. Proper dredging and waste management system are also imperative for the rivers.

China has started cleaning up the rivers by applying Satellite Monitoring and Remote Sensing. UK and Germany have succeeded in maintaining water quality of the Rhine and Thames Rivers. The River Rhine took 15 years to get back its natural condition, the river Tames took 60 years to get back its original form. The Dutch Government set unique model of river dredging and land reclamation in the world. The Dutch innovation and technology are footprints for reclaiming our rivers. The Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 amended in 2010 had incorporated stringent laws, rules with the object of saving the rivers and wetlands.

The Department of Environment has proclaimed 4 rivers as Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) by imposing embargo on erection of any structure besides the rivers without prior permission from the concerned authority. Bangladesh Environmental Laws and rules are basically code of conducts for the industrialists and entrepreneurs where environmental accountability and integrity are focused. Enforcing the environmental law by imposing heavy penalty against the polluters, grabbers, giving imprisonment, seizure of materials might have strong deterrence so that nobody ever dares to commit the "nature killing" crimes in future. Building public consciousness for rivers comes from regulatory actions, otherwise not. Bangladesh is blessed with rivers and tributaries, but Bangladesh is also one of the unfortunate countries on earth in terms of environmental degradation. In fact, we are digging up graveyard for our nation. So, time has come to stop all our devastating activities against rivers.

Protection of rivers relates to water, food and health security. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has mandated for sustainable environment. The SDG goal 6 provides availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. Target 6.3 clearly mentions improving water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated waste water and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse across the world. BIWTA, District administration and Department of Environment are the key agencies of protecting rivers. These departments need more human resources and technical logistics to ensure governance on rivers. Mere holding of rallies, human chain or celebration of Environment Day might not have significant impact on outrageous killing of rivers.

Rivers are partners of our life, friends of our economy, parts of our sorrows and cheers. The cost of river pollution is too high, too great. It has definitely adverse consequences not only for biodiversity, but it has tragic impact for the nature and economy as a whole. So, rivers have rights to survive as inevitable part of human civilization. In the context of International Day of Action for Rivers (March 14), Department of Environment, BIWTA, District Administration, Civil Society and Citizens should complement each other to rescue, reclaim and bring back the rivers to their previous healthy and lively shapes.

The writer is DG, Anti-corruption Commission & Former Director (Enforcement), Department of Environment, e-mail:



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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