The Financial Express

Ballad of rivers in their death throes

| Updated: October 08, 2022 20:10:03

Ballad of rivers in their death throes

A veritable gloom fills the thoughtful and conscientious people during the nation's observance of special days. These occasions' observances are meant to sensitise people to one or another issue's importance to the lives of the people. The subjects, befitting a developing country, belong to elements vulnerable to the processes of depletion or disappearance. To speak concisely, the greater sphere of the environment remains in a wide focus, especially its segments of rivers, the plant life, the air and many other related objects integral to safe human survival. Many of these special days lay stress on intangible things like the rights of women and ensuring their wellbeing, building a child-friendly atmosphere, improving the lot of a particular marginalised social community, and focusing on many other outwardly common but socially critical areas.

It's in line with this style that the dying rivers of a country come to the fore on every World Rivers Day on September 25. And in the context of Bangladesh, it's the Buriganga River flowing by Dhaka which grabs most of the attention of its users and the experts. Since the very advent of the 21st century, the faint process of the river's getting choked was in progress. By the start of the second decade of the century, the river began showing its early signs of death. Few would like to repeat the continuous dumping of solid and liquid waste into the river for the last two decades. That the river has long lost its usability caused by reckless pollution is an old tale. Its water stinks and has changed colour, thanks to the endless discharge of effluents from the riverside factories --- all this is a part of its fast decay. The construction of the Padma Bridge has prompted people to undertake road travels to the country's southern part, thus saving travel time, has rendered launches inoperative. It was expected that this would help the river water get back its tolerably clean look. But it didn't happen. The launches' lesser number now didn't help. There are many other diesel-driven vessels which have continued to ply the river. Those include cargo carriers, passenger trawlers on short-distance routes, and different other vessels. But what has been identified as the chief agent of the Buriganga pollution is the streams of liquid factory and municipal waste released into the river, leading to its water turning viscous. Hydrologists have long declared the Buriganga water completely unfit for the survival of any living organism.

The Shitalakhya , the Dhaleshwari and many of their branches have long been turning polluted. The same is the case with the Karnaphuli. The river was once considered pollution- proof, thanks to its strong current. The Meghna, owing to its depth and a relatively shorter length, remained strange to polluted water until very recently. The mighty river's segments near the large and small ports have lately begun showing signs of water turning fetid. According to the river authorities in the country, it shouldn't have been. Due to there being no effective laws restricting people from throwing litter into the country's rivers, their water has to bear the brunt: grappling with these solid waste materials. They range from the emptied water bottles, banana peel, green-coconut shells to the packets of snacks, and what not. Most of these garbage materials keep floating on the river surface, before they get stuck along the river banks. All large, medium and small rivers of the country have long fallen victim to this mindless pollution of water.

These rotting objects at one point start emitting a strong stench, making the lives of people in the neighbourhoods unbearable. Many of these garbage items go down, reaching underwater level, and remain lodged in the river bottom. According to river bed experts, the underwater detritus harms the rivers the most. They contribute to the deterioration of the river water's quality. Decades-long accumulation of non-biodegradable plastic, polythene and other materials etc on the river-bottoms lead to alarming drops in the required oxygen level in water. With no sufficient oxygen, almost all living organisms including the hydrophytes, not to speak of fish and other aquatic creatures, continue to die out in the country's Buriganga. The river has long earned the infamy of being one of the most polluted rivers in South Asia; the others being the Ganges near the city of Kolkata in India and the Yamuna near the Indian capital Delhi. The Buriganga is a river not too long. But thanks to its being located along the fast growing Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, the river enjoys a premier status. The Karnaphuli River in the south-eastern region of Bangladesh has its source in the Mizoram state of India. Upon entering Bangladesh, it flows through the Rangamati and Chattogram districts before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. In its final course, the river flows by the Chattogram Port.

A couple of years ago, the hills-origin Karnaphuli was considered the purest in Bangladesh, with its water showing little trace of pollution. However, with the fast growth of paper and other factories along the Karnaphuli banks, the process of the river's pollution began creeping in. Nowadays, parts of the river are considered highly polluted, its water mixed with different types of factory chemicals. The deteriorating process of the Surma in the northeastern Sylhet region portrays a gloomy picture of river pollution in the country. Like the Karnaphuli, it has also originated in the hills, the Manipur Hills in the Manipur state of India to be precise. Under the name of Barak, the river flows into the Assam state before entering Sylhet in Bangladesh. At the very border, the river divides into two streams --- Surma and Kushiyara. Both the rivers flow into Bangladesh. The joint streams are the source of the Meghna. While meandering through the vast tracts of northern India, the sparkling Barak remains completely free of pollution. Even after entering Bangladesh, the Surma, stemming from Barak, remains so. But its problem of losing the pristine purity and getting polluted starts near the Sylhet city. The water flowing through the Surma in certain segments has been declared unfit for human use. Anti-river-pollution activists find uncanny similarity in the dying process of the Surma and the Buriganga. Unplanned urbanisation, mindless release of municipal wastes and sewerage into the rivers continues to expedite the two rivers' death. As the Buriganga flows along a mindlessly growing capital, its level of pollution is vast. But the character of both rivers remains the same.

The rivers flowing through the sprawling Sundarbans are relatively free of pollution. But efforts ought to continue to keep the river routes off-limits to oil tankers. Of the 700 rivers in Bangladesh including their tributaries and distributaries, few are free of the dreaded pollution. In a country where the major rivers are made to put up with encroachment, the plight of the smaller rivers is understood. Even the long-undisturbed important rivers in northern Bangladesh are fast becoming victims of encroachment, siltation and other related scourges. All this presages the beginning of large-scale river pollutions countrywide. River saving activists continue their protest demonstrations at the pollution spots as well as in the capital. Lately, these programmes are emerging routine exercise in the face of the invincibility of river grabbers and polluters.

Stringent punishment meted out to the culprits harming rivers by resorting to encroachment and pollution has long been overdue. The punishments should be exemplary --- not excluding hefty monetary volumes in fines or imprisonment for life. It's because their crimes amount to killing the rivers, in reality in cold blood. The rivers have been declared by the country's Honourable High Cout 'living entities'. To sum up, rivers are integral to this nation's all-round socio-economic progress.


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