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Future looks bleak for waterways of world's largest delta PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Staff Correspondent

The future of Bangladesh's famed rivers and waterways remains critically endangered as water management policies at home and abroad continue to pose a dire threat to the largest river delta in the world.

The result: rivers radically changing course in a matter of years, excessive siltation and an impossible scenario regarding flood control initiatives.

Domestic inertia has combined with ill-conceived policies to leave a network of badly designed drainage and irrigation structures, unfettered dumping of toxic industrial waste and other pollutants as well as ongoing encroachment.

River experts fear that without immediate and concerted action these factors will leave Bangladesh's river systems virtually lifeless. Director general of the Water Resource Planning Organisation, Muhammad Inamul Huq, told that the Karotoa, Ichhamoti, Bhairab and Kaliganga rivers have almost totally dried up.

"This is largely because they changed their courses in the recent past. Such rivers now number about 12," said Huq. The WARPO director general said approximately 18 rivers today face extinction due to siltation at their sources.

He said the increased siltation was partly the result of indiscriminate deforestation and the destruction of vegetation upriver as well as in the watershed over many years.

Such rivers include the Naboganga in Jhenaidah, the Chitra in Chuadanga, the Narashunda in Kishoreganj, the Brahmaputra at Garai and the Dhaleshwari, which all suffer from a lack of water, particularly in the winter. About seven waterways are close to total collapse as a result of encroachment, said Huq.

The Kapotaksho in Jessore, the Betna in Sharsha, the Magra in Netrokona and the Chaktai Khal in Chittagong have all become almost totally choked, he said. Many flood control structures such as drainage and irrigation structures have also been built without any environmental impact studies being carried out.

The Brahmaputra embankment has put a stranglehold on the Manas, while the Ganges-Kobadak Project resulted in damage to the Kaliganga, Dakua and Baral rivers. Sluices and embankments built in different regions have caused about 16 rivers to dry up, said the WARPO director general.

Indiscriminate dumping of industrial and domestic waste have left the Turag, Balu and Sitalakshya rivers as well as a huge number of canals in a critical condition, water experts say. The Buriganga has been labelled an "ecologically dead river" by both river and water experts.

Prof Md Mujibur Rahman from BUET told that the five contiguous rivers and canals to Dhaka have become "poison reservoirs" due to unabated dumping of toxic and non-toxic waste over decades.

"The rivers carry heavy loads of silt, which eventually settle along the bottom of river beds, raising them all the time," said Rahman. "Tree felling along a river also causes the river bank to erode and silt deposits to form," he added. River experts said augmenting water flow in the rivers around Dhaka would help reduce pollution levels in the capital. However, without serious action from the government level down the future of one of Bangladesh's treasures and economic lifeblood remains imperiled.

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