a month ago

A requiem for the river Buriganga

Published :

Updated :

The way the country's rivers are being polluted without respite, it might take barely fifty years before a number of them go out of sight --- at least in part. Speaking without mincing words, they would be choked to death in cold blood. A sampling of this dying process could be detected in the Buriganga, the putative life-blood of Bangladesh. A poignant photograph published in this newspaper on February 5 speaks volumes of this dying process. As has been seen in the last three decades, the river's water has turned pitch black --- at places viscous and putrid. It's the years-long release of factory effluents and chemical discharges and dumping of medical wastes which has given the river this unsightly look, especially in winter. This is the season with little rain, which leads to accumulation of pollutants in the river's water. With Buriganga, it's not mere the look, but also the quality of its water which continues to baffle people who saw the river in pre-independence period. Decades back, with a few terminals and 'ghats' and a handful of steamers and cargo boats, the Buriganga managed to wear the character of a humble and placid look. Dhaka residents took pride in the mid-width river flowing by the city.

The sketches of the 19th century British government servants presenting the river with leisurely country boats moving about are the exposition of an immaculate nature. Those pleasant scenarios have vanished for good, leaving the river at the mercy of polluters and encroachers. In the following period they went all-out to sap the river. A unique aspect of the Buriganga is the two-pronged assaults it has been subject to. Unlike most of the vulnerable rivers, it has hardly been targeted by river shore grabbers. Segments of it occupied by people were already made to die out thanks to localised pollution. The areas lay severed from the Buriganga's main flow and later to be left as swamps. Many of the local influential people illegally occupied these marshy fallow lands, veritably the leftover of the river. However, the polluting process of the river went on unabated. It is the Buriganga in the western part of the city that mainly bore the brunt of water pollution. The large area is home to scores of improvised dingy factories --- dyeing being the major one. It is these factories which discharge mostly harmful effluents into the river. In many cases, they have taken the place of the remainders of small tanneries which stayed back after the tannery complex was relocated to Savar.

Thanks to the unremitting dumping of municipal and medical waste along with factory effluents into Buriganga, the oxygen level of the river's waters has fallen miserably. In other words, inadequate presence of dissolved oxygen to support aquatic organisms has led to the river's unwarranted sterility. As a result, the 18-km Buriganga has turned almost devoid of water-based life forms. The plain truth is few living organisms can now survive under the Buriganga waters. Over the years many newer rivers in the country has joined the group of the polluted ones. They include Korotoa, Icchamoti, Bhairab, Kumar, Chitra, Gorai, Modhimoti etc.

Of late many would like to see Karnafuli in this group. The proverbially sprightly and clean-water river has been unaffected by the curse of pollution. But effluents and wastes from the large paper mill in the area and on its bank continue to spawn pollution unabated. Besides, pollution from throwaway plastic items and different municipal wastes pose a great threat to the river in the port city. The Bay of Bengal is not far, and the Karnaphuli ends up into the sea directly without branching out into other rivers. It's a relief for the people in the greater Chattogram area. Had the river's flow been windy, the state of its pollution would have affected the bends along its way. The Surma in the greater Sylhet carries the negative potential of being polluted along its course. The river gets highly polluted as it flows by the Sylhet City.

A number of mighty rivers remain polluted round the year elsewhere in the world. Among them the name that comes first is that of Yamuna in Delhi, India. Like the rivers in any developing country, the Yamuna is highly polluting. The river's pollution is multifarious which spans from that caused by the release of industrial effluents, untreated waste, municipal waste to waste water from shanties etc. The Nile, the Mississippi and three major Chinese rivers are reportedly affected by pollution. Compared to all these rivers, the pollution of the Buriganga is said to be beyond all remedial measures. Since the pollution is mostly man-made, it cannot be battled without the involvement of people dedicated to saving a river. In many countries, the river pollutions are not allowed to go beyond a certain limit. The authorities dealing with rivers and their pollution find it something resembling a national task. Thanks to Bangladesh being a river-filled country, the river saving campaigns ought to have spread throughout its length and breadth. Its crescendo should have been picked on the banks of the polluted rivers.

It has not happened. Even the regular rallies, demonstrations, seminars and symposiums couldn't achieve anything worth taking heart from. This is sheer maltreatment of a country's already gasping rivers. With the government authorities concerned seemingly apathetic towards the country's rivers, the private platforms can do little in this regard. Yet the river-saving movements continue unabated. At least their occasional protest demonstrations remind people of the fact that the country's dying rivers are not totally in the lurch.

The river saving movement centring round the Buriganga River illustrates the river's importance to the country. Since the Sultanate and, later, the Mughal periods, the Buriganga has been recognised as Bengal's politico-economic lifeline. It was because the capital of Bengal, Dhaka, stands on the Buriganga. Scores of rulers and Subeh Bengal chiefs have entered this land through this river. The river carried enormous historical importance to the people of the eastern part of Bengal in the 16th and 17th centuries. Those were the days when the pollution of rivers was an unheard-of scourge. But intermittent floods used to wreak havoc with the then Dhaka's residents. In spite of its damaging character, floods in the past would leave the river free of all kinds of detritus. The river stood cleansed of pollution. To the woes of the Dhaka residents, this doesn't happen these days thanks to the thickness of the pollution layers.

In many contexts, Buriganga stands nowhere near the Shitalakkhya or Karnaphuli. But the capital Dhaka has added to the importance of the river. Even in its miserable state caused by its water pollution, optimists look to its resurgent phase. Enough monsoon rainfall interspersed with summer showers can make a difference in the prevalence of river pollution. But few can say with certainty that rains will accompany a particular season. It has a lot to do with the whims of nature. Many a monsoon passes in the country with insufficient rain. If the situation recurs, the Buriganga pollution is feared to reach an irreversibly alarming level.


[email protected]



Share this news