Let Rivers be Returned to Rivers

Thirteen rivers have been lost from Bangladesh’s topography in the past several decades while seven more are on the verge of their death as experts said reckless human interventions were killing the streams physically as well as chemically and biologically. “We have killed these rivers,” said water expert Professor Ainun Nishat as the latest Water Development Board recently made an inventory of the dead and dying rivers.

According to the list the Narasundra, Bibiana, Shakha Barak, Palang, Bhubeneswar, Burinadi, Bamni, Hamkura, Harihar, Chitra, Musa Khan, Hishna and the Shakha Baral physically died gradually in the past decades. With their dwindling flow the rivers like the Karotoa, Ichhamati, Bhairab, Kaliganga, Kumar, Chitra and Bhadra are gradually embracing death, changing the topography of deltaic Bangladesh, criss-crossed by 230 rivers, 57 of them international ones. Nishat and fellow experts 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.

“We are not allowing the rivers to flow in their normal course for which they are losing their usual or natural character,” said Professor Nishat, now the country representative of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Explaining the phenomenon, he said, the rapid population growth prompted people to occupy the floodplains and low-lying marshy lands obstructing their natural links with rivers, which are also crucial for the maintenance of ecosystems, containing floods and generating natural resources.

On the other hand, the interventions in the upstream regions like the cross-border Farrakka Barrage reduce the flow of the Padma resulting in the death of its tributaries in the lower riparian areas, he said referring to the dying state of the Gorai. Rivers, Nishat said, are also dying because of chemical and biological pollution caused by dumping of chemical or biological wastes eventually endangering quality of the aquifer too.

Nishat said many rivers, particularly in the south-western region, were shrinking as greedy quarters were grabbing them by building structures like cross dams. Local residents said the Nad Bhairab, which in the recent past used to wash the floodplains of Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jhinaidah, Jessore, Khulna and Bagerhat, is gradually dying. Same is the state of the Bhadra River of Khulna and the Kaliganga, which flows through Kushtia, Jhinaidah, Magura, Faridpur and Madaripur. The source of the Chitra in the region was lost killing the river.

Experts with the Water Board said the unplanned growth of infrastructures including roads, houses and flood control structures also killed or are killing rivers in other areas of the country too. According to their latest studies, the famous Korotoa, which was flowing through north-western Panchagargh, Nilphamari, Rangpur, Bogra and Sirajganj, is now on the verge of its death. Similar fate is being faced by the Ichhamoti, which linked itself with the Brahmaputra flowing through north-western and central districts of Pabna, Manikganj, Dhaka and Munshinganj.

Nishat said shortsighted engineering interventions like embankment constructions or encroachments also often invite wraths of rivers in the form of erosion. There are engineering solutions to prevent erosion at any point. But such interventions prompt the rivers to erode with same strength its edges at some other point. “So we have to decide first under a socio-economic strategy which point of the rivers we want to protect.”

The encroachment of the Buriganga is the reason behind its recent unusual behaviour in eroding Basila area of the capital Dhaka. If the river is encroached from its both sides, it will not be surprising that in the near future the river will die, the water expert said.

Bangladesh is called a riverine country not only because it is criss-crossed by a large number of rivers like a net. These rivers are lifeline of the economy, the ecosystem and the culture of the land. The rivers in the monsoon bring huge sediment to fertilise the soil for increased yield, replenish the aquifer to be used for drinking water and irrigating croplands. The rivers are the major source of fish protein for the country’s huge population. They are still crucial for transportation of commercial products. So let us return the rivers to rivers themselves to keep them alive (Anisur Rahman ; Noverber 4, 2004).

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