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Save the rivers

The Buriganga is literarily dying, if not already dead. It has shrunk both in width and depth — the width by the innumerable structures built along both sides by the land grabbers and the depth by layer after layer of polythene and other solid wastes that are being thrown into the river every moment..

When the Mughals made Dhaka the capital in 1610, the river was the city’s main source of drinking water. Why talk about the Mughal period? It is hardly a quarter century back, when this river used to be utilised by the residents of Dhaka for boating, bathing and washing, even for cooking and drinking purpose. Pity! Today, you cannot think of even taking a boat ride for pleasure let alone use it for bathing, cooking or drinking. The water has simply become poisonous.

The reason why the condition of the river has become so bad is not difficult to understand. It has been seriously affected by pollutants that include chemical wastes of mills and factories, home wastes, medical wastes, sewage, oil spillage and every other thing one can conceive of.

The city of Dhaka discharges more than 45,000 tons of solid waste everyday and most of it is released in the Buriganga. The tanneries at Hazaribag alone release about 20,000 tons of waste that includes highly toxic materials.

The condition of another important river, the Sitalakhya at Narayanganj, is no different either. Its water, which is the main source of surface water for Wasa’s water treatment plant at Syedabad, has become so polluted that it can hardly be considered fit for treatment even.

If I am not wrong, marine pollution, be it of sea or river water, is an offence punishable under international law and Bangladesh is a signatory to the international convention for marine pollution. How is it that the rivers of Bangladesh, especially those around Dhaka, are being polluted so indiscriminately under the very nose of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) representatives sitting in Dhaka?

Even if we are easily let off from our international obligation for one reason or other, it is in our own interest that we should take every measure, both at individual and national levels, to protect the rivers from pollution. We have to rescue them from extinction at all costs.

The present government has been frantically trying to increase the water flow and bring life to the river by demolishing the unauthorised structures built on either side of the river and removing polythene and other debris from its bed, but with little or no result. The main reason for their failure is their inability to plug the holes that allow discharge of pollutants into the river.

The Hazaribag tanneries, which are considered to be the single largest source of pollution for the river, are still there releasing tones of highly toxic chemical wastes almost unabatedly. They were supposed to be shifted to Savar long ago but are still there to continue polluting the river and add to the misery of the city.

The Buriganga, the Sitalakhya, the Turag and the Balu that surround Dhaka serve not only as the transport links with the other districts of the country, but also as the receivers of the water drainage system of the capital city. They are also sources of surface water needed for supply of safe drinking water to the city. In other words, they are the lifelines of the city. Their death means the death of the city itself.

According to a recent newspaper report, more than 80% of Dhaka city’s requirement of drinking water is still being met from underground water. The situation is grim because of the fact that the upper level of under ground water is continuously going down at an alarming rate. If the trend continues like this our sources of underground water will almost completely dry up in the next 10-15 years and then we will have to depend fully on surface water.

It is, therefore, imperative on the part of the government as well as the residents of the city to take care of these rivers. I am not sure who in the government are particularly responsible for looking after these rivers. Whoever they may be, it is high time they woke up and took steps that will help rescue these rivers from total disaster

The writer is a retired merchant navy officer. Email: himam55@yahoo.co.uk

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