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Rivers Day: Revival of dying rivers must for sustainability
unprecedented floods of August in northern districts

Rivers Day: Revival of dying rivers must for sustainability

Dhaka, Sept 24 – The severe floods that devastated the Bangladesh’s 27 districts are a wake-up call for the authorities concerned to act immediately to recover the dying rivers to protect from even more perilous deluge in future, say green activists.Despite the formation of different high-profile bodies, the government’s repeated directives and the outcry of environmentalists, there has been little progress in saving rivers by restoring their navigability and protecting from grabbing and pollution, the UNB news agency reported.
The World Rivers Day is being observed in the country with various programmes highlighting the importance of protecting the rivers that are facing an array of threats. The Day is being observed in the country as elsewhere across the globe on Sunday.
The theme of this year’s World Rivers Day is ‘Encroachment-pollution free rivers: Save Life and Nature.’
ON Saturday, a road march programme was held marking the day where Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud took part along with a good number of participants.
At the programme, the minister claimed that about 40 percent pollution of Buriganga River has reduced due to the removal of the leather industry from the city’s Hazaribagh area.
“The shifting of Hazaribagh tannery has reduced 40 percent pollution of Buriganga River. Now, we have to stop the rest of the 60 percent pollution of the river,” the minister asserted.
When contacted, water expert Prof Ainun Nishat said there are many committees, laws, decisions and policies to reclaim rivers, but now proper actions are necessary.
He said the government has made some progress in reducing pollution in the Buriganga River. “Same efforts should be made to free other rivers from grabbing and pollution.”
Ainun Nishat said the recent floods are a wake-up call for the authorities concerned to restore the natural flow of all rivers and redesign embankments, bridges, culverts and even roads, and ensure their planned urbanisation to protect the country from natural disasters.
Rizwana Hasan said the main barriers to recovering the rivers are the lack of the ‘government’s goodwill’, strong political commitment and enforcement of laws. “We must protect the rivers from encroachers and ensure their natural flow to save the nation from natural disasters like flood and waterlogging.”
MA Matin said there has been a movement by green activists in the country since 1997 to save the rivers, but its achievement is not noteworthy.
“People are now aware of the importance of rivers…they talk about it. The Prime Minister often talks about river protections. A National River Protection Commission and a Taskforce have been formed…The High Court gave a landmark judgment to save rivers. These are our achievements, but no river is still fully protected from grabbers and pollution.”
The green activists feel that the district and Upazila administrations are a major obstacle to saving rivers. He said the High Court in 2009 clearly defined the three parts of rivers—bed, foreshore and bank — and asked the authorities concerned to determine the exact boundaries of the four Dhaka rivers and install pillars on their banks.
Abu Naser Khan said the government is not getting any visible success in recovering the rivers for lack of a powerful body to deal with the issue and enforcement of laws.
He said the River Commission was formed without giving it any authority to implement major decisions. “The commission took many good decisions, but those have not been implemented.”
The Poba chief said land grabbers are very influential having political clouts, muscle power and nexus with the administration. “So, without a strong political will and enforcement of laws, it won’t be possible to stop river grabbing and recover the occupied lands.”
Naser also said there should be strong monitoring over enforcement of laws to force industries to install effluent treatment plants (ETPs) and operate those regularly.
The International Farakka Committee in a statement on 18 August last said: Excessive floods and water scarcity are results of unsustainable river management
People of at least 30 districts out of 64 in Bangladesh were affected by serious late-monsoon floods due to the onrush of water of common rivers from across the border and incessant rainfall. The floods have already damaged agriculture, vegetable, fruit and fish farms and destroyed dwelling houses and physical infrastructures like roads, highways and rail lines. Experts say 92 percent of the flood water comes from the upper catchments of common rivers while about eight percent generate from local rainfall and stream flows from hills.
The International Farakka Committee (IFC) has been telling all for over two decades that excessive flood during the wet season and shortage of water during the dry season in the lower catchments of common rivers is the result of unsustainable management of these natural systems. Due to the unplanned construction of a series of dams and barrages at the upper catchments of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna many small rivers in the sub-continent have started dying. In Bangladesh alone, 30 rivers in the floodplains of the Ganges now do not have flows in the dry season as they have embraced untimely death. On the other hand, in the absence of adequate flow and current, the big rivers are losing navigability due to the formation of shoals and chars and are losing their capacity to carry water to the Bay of Bengal. The rainy season water is thus overflowing their banks and increasing the recurrence of floods.
The people of Bangladesh have not only faced the serious destruction of agriculture, industry, fish production, and navigation but also a serious environmental degradation in the Ganges catchment on the southwestern part of the country due to inadequate flow of water in the river. Gorai the main distributary of the Ganges cannot be turned into one having flow in the dry season even after years of capital dredging. To add to the misery the flow of the Teesta in its Bangladesh part has become uncertain. This is because the central government of India, despite making promises, has not succeeded to conclude a treaty with Bangladesh on sharing of its rivers due to opposition from the government of the state of West Bengal. Very recently the Chief Minister of this Indian State Ms Mamata Banarjee has said that the water of the Teesta cannot be shared with Bangladesh because the entire quantum of its water is required for West Bengal.
Against this, the honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said that the water of the Teesta segment was required in Bangladesh to protect the Northern part of the country from the process of turning arid and sustaining agriculture and the environment. The Prime Minister has demonstrated her foresight by taking a position against the talk of construction of a Ganges Barrage in Bangladesh because there is no surety of flow of the river. The International Farakka Committee has congratulated her for this foresight. During the rule of the present government, many unsettled problems between the two friendly neighbouring countries have been resolved. The relations between the two neighbours have grown stronger. The people of the country strongly believe that by pursuing this friendship it would be possible to solve the unresolved issues and problems. The honourable Prime Minister has been elected a member of an influential UN committee on water. We believe that the Premier would be able to stop the diversion of water of the Teesta river basin to other river basins. Because the transfer of water from one basin to another is prohibited under international law. The
water of the Teesta is now being diverted through the Mahananda and the Ganges on the other side of the Bangladesh-India border to further south. Will it be sustainable to kill the Teesta in its Bangladesh part? Will the people of Bangladesh, who are being denied its flow, accept this?
A tributary of the Brahmaputra, entire water of the Teesta used to flow into Bangladesh and joint the flow of the Brahmaputra for centuries. Now the flow of the river remains obstructed. In other words, if the problem of diversion of water of the Teesta is not resolved, the Gazaldoba barrage constructed on the other side of the border is going to turn into another death trap form the people of Bangladesh. Diversion of water of the Brahmaputra is a part of the River Interlinking Project of the government of India. Under the present BJP government implementation of the project has been resumed with renewed enthusiasm. The people of Bangladesh have waged movement in the early part of the last decade when implementation of this RLP project was initiated. The water and river experts and activists of India are in a movement against it and want the people of Bangladesh to remain vocal against the unsustainable activity. Because implementation of this project would cause the untimely death of the Himalayan rivers that have kept the subcontinent green and habitable for the millennia. About 1.5 billion people of South Asia will face unprecedented environmental catastrophe as a result. IFC urges all irrespective of political affiliations to remain vocal against the move to prevent the disaster.
Let us raise a united voice that the common Himalayan rivers be kept alive through basin-wide integrated management on the basis of regional cooperation of people of all the riparian countries of these rivers. All the people living beside these rivers can benefit from services of these natural endowments only if they remain alive. Death of these rivers is inevitable if the present unsustainable development activities on these natural systems continue. And this would be extremely unfortunate and devastating.
We take this opportunity also to urge all concerned to extend their hands of support and cooperation to millions of flood-affected people to overcome the ravages of the disaster.
On Saturday the World Rivers Day Coordination Council (WRDCC) read out five proposals and five promises at the programme.
World Rivers Day is a celebration of the world’s waterways that highlights the many values of our rivers, strives to increase public awareness, and encourages the improved stewardship of all rivers around the world.
In 2005, the United Nations (UN) launched the Water for Life Decade to help create a greater awareness of the need to better care for our water resources.
Following this, the establishment of World Rivers Day was in response to a proposal initiated by internationally renowned river advocate Mark Angelo.
A World Rivers Day event was seen by agencies of the UN as a good fit for the aims of the Water for Life Decade and the proposal was approved.
River enthusiasts from around the world came together to organise the inaugural WRD event.
That first event in 2005 was a great success and Rivers Day was celebrated across dozens of countries. Since then, the event has continued to grow and it is annually celebrated on the last Sunday of every September. – UNB