Save Rivers, Save Dhaka, Save Bangladesh



The Poetic Beauty of Rivers In Bangladesh, Image by Ziaul Haque, Used under a CC license
The poetic beauty of rivers in Bangladesh, Image by Ziaul Haque, Used under a CC license

When we took the City Cat ride on Brisbane River, or had a view of the river from Sydney opera house or spent time in South Bank of Melbourne CBD we always thought what Dhaka could be if we could maintain the virginity of Buriganga, Sitalakhya, Turag and Balu rivers. Can fondly remember when we were in our childhood we used to come to Dhaka from Goalando, Faridpoor by Steamer Ostrich to Narayanganj and then by train to Dhaka in 1960s. Padma, Buriganga , Sitalakhya that we had to cross were of poetic beauty. Lush green villages around river banks were enchanting.

Due to unplanned growth of Dhaka in all dimensions over the last four decades we have indiscriminately misused our natural gift. That beauty of the rivers is gone. Rivers are polluted to such an extent that no aquatics can survive. . Grabbers and encroachers have grabbed major parts of the rivers. The rivers are dying. If people of Dhaka do not rise in one voice in another 10 years Dhaka will become inhabitable a barren city. Rivers around Dhaka will be the events of the past. Our future generation will curse us.

Those lucky persons who had opportunity to visit major European, Australian cities must have noticed that major cities and many civilization have developed and thrived being situated on a the bank of river. How carefully the rivers have been kept free of all nuisances that we observe in case of Bangladesh and some regional countries. Be it London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Venice, Frankfurt, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne all have so much of contribution of the rivers. Our Dhaka was naturally blessed with four lovely rivers Buriganga, Sitalakhya, Turag and Balu encircling it. Name of Dhaka used to be fondly remembered with that of Buriganga .It was and still it is the gateway to Dhaka from southern Bengal. Several canals criss crossing Dhaka could be ideal for water drainage and flood control of Dhaka. But none cared for keeping the canals alive; none cared for maintaining the health of Dhaka Rivers. Canals are mostly non existent; rivers are extremely polluted with toxic wastes of tanneries and untreated industrial refuse and sewerages. Not only river banks, rivers are also occupied by grabbers. Not to speak of using river water for any purpose even boat rides in the rivers have become hazardous.

We have so many intellectuals busy back scratching one other; we have noble laureate, lawyers of international reputation. We have veteran politicians, patriotic environmentalists, historians. We find everyday people in expensive attire talk wisdom in TV talk shows and seminars. We have two feuding ladies branding each other vultures in Bangladesh sky. But our rivers in Dhaka are dying. City is getting inhabitable. Is it not a failure for our policy makers, planners. Is not a great shame for all of us?

Dhaka is branded as one of most polluted, one of the dirtiest city of the world. It should not be even one 10th of Melbourne where we live but it has ten times the populations of Melbourne. In few years if we are not careful Dhaka may even reach the total population of Australia. In 38 years no government could create any infrastructures outside Dhaka which could stop influx of populations to the capital. About 30 % of floating Dhaka population live in unhygienic slums which is one of major reason of city pollution, rivers and water way pollution as many of them live on river embankments and dykes. Every year victims of flood, river erosions come to Dhaka and sheler in slums. All job opportunities, education facilities, health care, sporting events; major cultural activities are Dhaka based. So people crowd in Dhaka. These makes cunning and influential property builders grab lands on river banks or even reclaim from rivers. The river authority, Rajuk and Municipal Corporation are either corrupt or incapable to stem the rot.

River pollution in Dhaka
Dhaka river bank scene viewed from Keraniganj, Image courtesy Ershad Ahmed

Major industries like tanneries, textiles are constantly dumping untreated or undertreated toxic industrial refuses to river streams, untreated sewerage; solid municipal wastes are also dumped in uncontrolled manners. It has been reported in Bangladesh media that river beds have 3-4 filled with polythnes. So the rivers are getting squeezed from all direction – top, bottom, left and right. BOD has gone down drastically making the rivers inhabitable for any aquatics.

Many major property builders getting permission from Rajuk are reclaiming land from rivers to build housing complexes .Rajuk has allegedly ignored their own policies and guidelines. Now if any government organisation goes for massive actions to free river banks or rivers then there may be judicial complexities.

Off late civil society appears to be forming unity. There must be some actions in the ensuing parliament session .All parties must unite to end unoccupied occupation of Dhaka Rivers, regenerate all city canals.

If we can free river banks, we can build embankments and circular roads around the city. We have to relocate tannery from Hazaribagh to its designated location and set up treatment plant for its wastes, we must relocate all other polluting industries out of the city in different locations. No industry should operate without proper treatment facility. An all party River Commission with line professionals must be set up as vigilant team to police against river occupation, pollution. Media must continue play very pro active role.

Rivers will need extensive appropriate dredging to clear the bottom of polyphone and increase navigability. In 10 years Dhaka must change to surface water almost exclusively and all deep tube wells must be put out of operation. Sub surface water table must be regenerated to save Dhaka from vulnerability of earth quake.

There can be water recycling for industrial use and irrigation in and around Dhaka. If there can be properly planned Water Recycling the polluted water being flown to rivers can again be treated in Advanced water treatment plants and reused . It will also protect the health of the rivers. This writer has worked for two years in the massive recycled water project of Queensland. The treatment of waste water in advanced water treatment plant by reverse osmosis process produce as good as or even better than municipal water. Première of Queensland Ms Anna Bleigh did not even hesitate to drink that water when we commissioned the plant. If municipal and city waste water can be piped to plants and after treatment can be piped back to end users at least 50 % requirement of City water can be met by recycled water alone. If Bangladesh Government is interested it can share experience and expertise with Australian Government.

Dredging of rivers to ensure all seasons navigability, freeing river banks and river proper from illegal occupants, relocating polluting industries an ensuring proper treatment of industrial refuse, recycling waste water, municipal solid wastes for reuse can change Rivers in 3-4 years. For our survival, for the sake of better living of our future generation we must do it. There must not be any crisis of fresh sweet water if rivers are healthy,. We can treat river waters, treat and use recycled water. Deep rivers will protect Dhaka from seasonal flooding. Rivers can be best mode of transportations for goods and people. Circular roads around city can be linked with all city gates for coming in and going out of the city much comfortably.

Our concern is for sick and grey Dhaka Rivers, our concern is for Dhaka the historic city of great tradition. The city that we all love. We must let it live peacefully. The Rivers of Dhaka must live and die with the city. We used to read Dhaka stands on the River Buriganga. Let our next generations after another 500 years have the pride to live in a city with beautiful and clean rivers flowing around it and through it.

Let this be our national slogan – save rivers, save Dhaka and save Bangladesh.

Kh A Saleque (Saleque Sufi) is one of our guest writers, He is an Engineer by profession and lives in Australia. Read more posts by Kh. A Saleque.

11 Responses to “Save Rivers, Save Dhaka, Save Bangladesh”

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    md.izazul haq

    tanks for ur nice article.this is izaz,studyin at univ. of dhaka in geo. & env. dept.recently i am working on DIEF’09 on project on river.would u pls provide me some quantified information about “how to save the river” or bullet points about the causes of river pollution on dhaka city or some stat.
    thank u.

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    Today’s 333 millimeter rainfall and its Disastrous consequences on city dwellers should put some dent on the minds of the 17 or so Awami League MPs elected from Dhaka. Glad to see that the LGRD deputy minister Nanak monitoring the situation from the control room in his office.But it was non-sensense to close the main road running from the PM’s office to Shahbagh. What our leaders including the PM should realize that it is people who elect them to power and it’s peoples’ welfare that should be AL and PM’s priority.

    Speeding away in a BMW to her office while obstructing a major thoroughfare meant for public use in an already clogged city is the most undemocratic practice a PM could undertake in a democracy.

    I am infuriated to see so many political blogs but hardly any enlightened discussion on the environmental disaster looming over Dhaka.

    Today I got to know that Yasin Mollah the AL MP from Mirpur has been busy selling lakeside land illegally to slumdwellers and landgrabbers just like any other government of the past including the failed CTG of Moin. As a result most of the houses surrounding the already illegally filled lakes in Mirpur are inundated and the slumdwellers are panic-stricken running for shelter under the open skies.

    I don’t blame the illiterate tenants but the actual morally corrupt thugs who rent out these illegal tin-shed slums.

    I see the AL housing and land ministers talking loud about their determination to bring down illegal structures in Dhaka, save river banks and lakes from encroachment but in reality they are doing nothing but the opposite.

    MPs like Kamal Majumder and Yasin Mollah should be warned of their corrupt practices. Their fate will be just like that of Pintu if they imitate the criminal behaviour of Pintu.

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    Fuad Islam

    Business class hypocrisy

    The hypocrisy of the business class is so deeply ingrained in our culture that you will see a lot of BCCI and BGMEA office holders speaking on TV channels criticising the government on budget proposals and other issues but never for a moment reflecting on the injustice being done to the workers and the total disregard for environmental safeguards of the city dwellers.

    One such personality is Anowar-ul-Alam Chowdhury Pervez who is most of the time criticising the government but has hardly ever mentioned the calamitious ecological and environmental catastrophe they have done to the Dhaka dwellers by erecting an unauthorized illegal BGMEA building in the midst of the Hatir Jheel Resevoir Recovery project.

    They must have acquired the illegal piece of water basin by bribing the then government and then filling in the basin bed with mud and sand and hurriedly constructing the megastructure to foil any attempts to destroy it in future. In its wake they may have sowed the seeds for the biggest disaster in Dhaka city by obstructing the natural flow of water through the reservoir.

    It is also surprising to see that they have somehow managed the Fakruddin government not to bring it down possibly through illegal means. In my opinion it should have been leveled to the ground like the RANGS bhaban.

    It is an eyesore to see that illegal building obstructing one’s view of the wide expanse of the once natural water basin.

    I ask the government to take immediate steps to tear it down and restore the basin to its original form. The government should show zero tolerance for all illegal occupants of the canals and waterways that once ran through the city to immediately solve the water-logging situation in Dhaka.

    It is also true that Sadek Hossain Khoka and DCC have not cleaned the surface drains of the city last summer. It was also one of the reasons why so much of water inundated the city.

    I also think that Dhaka should strictly monitor its population and drastically cut down the floating population and strictly restrict new entrants into the city.Eviction of slum dwellers on both sides of railway tracks and slums in lakes used to illegally claim land at night must stop.

    This is just another example of intellectual corruption at the highest level of our society.

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    Picking up on the above comment, I am reminded of two incidents in Washington. These incidents portray how conscientious and/or people friendly a leader is.

    1. After the Iraq invasion, George W. Bush one day headed to Fort Belvoir (in Washington suburbs) to help prepare Chrismas gifts for the troops in Iraq.
    To pave his way, the express lanes were blocked off. This wouldn’t be a problem during other hours but this was done during rush hour when people are heading out of the city. I was heading home too. It took me three hours to get home that afternoon, a trip that takes about 45 minutes. The traffic was bumper to bumper. That evening, most of the local media exposed the reason for this mess. It was Bush’s motorcade!

    2. A few weeks ago, President Obama headed to Fort Belvoir. This time, I wasn’t on the road but the media that evening reported that Mr. Obama’s motorcade got stuck in the jam in the express lanes just like the regular travellers. Unlike Mr. Bush, Obama did not have the lanes closed ahead for his travel. Instead, when he got stuck, the motorcade drove to the next available exit and then used the local roads to reach its destination.

    I mention this so that our Prime Minister and other big shots who have such exclusive “privilege” do what Obama did. We elect our leaders to make life easier for us not otherwise. I hope our honorable PM will think about this next time she travels the clogged roads of Dhaka.

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    Engr Khondkar Abdus Saleque( Sufi)

    Tanks Mr Imran. You have hit the bulls eye. Bangladeshi politicians behave like saints at least in their satements when they are in opposition. But they cahnge when in power.They just turn devil.They forget about the responsibilities and commitments to the people. Dhaka situtaion si now terrible. Power load shedding, gas crisis , massive traffic consgestion, waterlogging, river pollution, air poluution , insecurity from crinminals .You name every nuisance , you have it there. Still these are not considered major challenges by our leaders. They are busy making laws to protect Bangabandhu family. Bangabandhu himself never bothered for it.
    We have seasoned intelligentia always busy in semionars , symposium , Tv talk shows. Bangladesh would have cease to exist if our innovative farmers did not grow bumper crops in every opportunities , if our poor garments girls did not work in inhuman environment to earn forex, if our poor labour community did not earn wages from abroad. These guys are doing much better tahn our white collared corrupt beauractrats and dandabaj political touts and batpars.

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    afia khatun

    You guys need to have a revolution and take over. People’s power is the only way. The thing is the average educated middle-class Bangladeshi lives a protected and sheltered life. Only when they go outside the country and have to survive on their own do they get the shock of their lives. I have met some such in the UK who are mortified when they have to do a working class job such as work behind the counter at Macdonalds, pay bills, share a bed, share food and mix with a wide variety of people. It’s then that you see how narrow-minded and stupid they are. They know nothing about hard work, about exploitation or about poverty. You would think some of them were princes by the amount of boasting they do. Boasting about big houses in Bangladesh, servants and drivers and what a wonderful life they had and ki koshto bideshe eshe. Not many people in the UK can afford servants or chauffeurs. That’s the privelige of the extremely wealthy, but the average middle-class family in Bangladesh can hire coooks, servants, ayahs and drivers for hardly any money at all. The servants sleep in the bathroom on the floor and eat left-overs and are sometimes physically abused. They will even use children for domestic labour. Yet you will find the very same people are involved in so called ‘progressive politics’ and forward thinking ‘liberal’ circles. there’s bunches of ex-pats her pre-occupied with etho serious kaaj, criticising literature and organising book-fairs! You will meet people who have arrived here out of nowhere, got government grants to do some sort of study, boasting about returning to bangladesh and helping their people. I bet! they’ll all be on the next plane to america, singapore and anywhere rich given the first chance.

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    afia khatun

    Oh gosh, sorry, but I have to say something about NGO’s. I’ve hardly met any, but a couple of years ago a woman from Bangladesh came to East London to to an MSC in Development Studies at SOAS, which is a very prestigious University here. Anyway, I’m only a BA, but she asked me to look at one of her essays to correct her English, which I was happy to do the once. It was full of grammatical errors and had no depth whatsoever in content. She asked me again but I got suspicious because it would have been compulsorary for her to sit an English entrance examination to get onto this programme as a foreign student. The point isn’t so much about the grammar but the lack of depth, considering she was supposed to be a seasoned NGO. She also told me she was moving out of East London to Barking. I asked her why she wanted to move from a Bangladeshi area with good Bangladeshi grocery shops and facilities for Bangladeshi’s to a white area and she screwed her face up and said she didn’t like this the area. I was really shocked that someone whose job it was was to help the poor should think she was better than the Bangladeshi’s here. Let me tell you that there is no comparison whatsoever between poverty in a post-industrial society like the UK and a country like Bangladesh. I expect she lived somewhere posh like Dhanmondi and never had to mix with anyone outside her social circle apart from when she went to a basti in Dhaka once a month to write a report. I found this behaviour completely disgusting. She then complained to me she couldn’t get a job here because she couldn’t compete with British-Bangladeshi’s and how she thought that was unfair. I expect many people in Bangladesh would like her job and her salary and benefits and would consider it unfair that they didn’t have a chance. I tried to explain to the lady that the Bangladesh community here had to fight a hostile, racist and violent white community here to get any rights at all and that she was fortunate to be living within the protective environs of an established community, but the lady was a big snob and thought she was better than other people. I couldn’t figure out how somone so un-intelligent had such a good job in Bangladesh. Class politics in Bangladesh it too extreme for my liking and that’s because it is ruled by a tiny, tiny, tiny clique that looks after it’s own interests only.

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    Engr Khondkar Abdus Saleque( Sufi)

    Thanks MS Afia for your sincere opinion. We NRBs have definite role to play for curing our national curses. All NGOs in Bangladesh are not the same, all people are not dishonest.There are definitely honest and committed minority who must be recognised. We all NRBs with our humble capacity must try to assist good efforts of individuals and communities in Bangladesh.Look at Non Resident Indians, Chinese . They are doing great jobs.Why can’t we?

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    r we not going apart from our main discussion on deestruction of rivers

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    Bavan, you got the point, but interestingly, if we start describing any affairs of BD, at the end you find it all out of order,and somebody then address you that you did for them , hey “Mr u may out of track”, but it’s not your fault.

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