World Rivers Day

'Reviving dying rivers essential to strengthen flood defence'

23 Sep 2017, 22:32


Dhaka: The recent severe floods that devastated Bangladesh's 27 districts and haor region are a wake-up call for the authorities concerned to act immediately to recover the dying rivers to protect the nation from even more perilous natural disaster in the days to come, said green activists.

Despite the formation of different high-profile bodies, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's repeated directives and the outcry of environmentalists, there has been little progress in saving rivers, including the ones surrounding Dhaka, from grabbing and pollution and restoring their navigability.

Environmentalists Prof Ainun Nishat, chief executive of Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chairman of Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba) Abu Naser Khan and general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (Bapa) MA Matin also think that the lack of the government's strong political will, concerted efforts by different agencies, enforcement of laws and faulty demarcations stood in the way of recovering the rivers.

Under the circumstances, the World Rivers Day is set to be observed in the country on Sunday with various programmes highlighting the importance of protecting the rivers that are facing an array of threats.

Contacted, Prof Ainun Nishat said there are many committees, laws, decisions and polices to reclaim rivers, but now proper actions are necessary.

He said the government has made some progress in reducing pollution in the Buriganga River and this has been possible because of the Prime Minister's instructions. "Same efforts should be made to free other rivers from grabbing and pollution."

Ainun Nishat said the recent floods are a wake-up call for the authorities concerned to restore the natural flow of all rivers and redesign embankments, bridges, culverts and even roads, and ensure their planned urbanisation to protect the country from natural disasters.

Rizwana Hasan said the main barriers to recovering the rivers are the lack of the 'government's good will', strong political commitment and enforcement of laws. "We must protect the rivers from encroachers and ensure their natural flow to save the nation from natural disasters like flood and waterlogging."

MA Matin said there has been a movement by green activists in the country since 1997 to save the rivers, but its achievement is not noteworthy.

"People are now aware of the importance of rivers...they talk about it. The Prime Minister often talks about river protections. A National River Protection Commission and a Taskforce have been formed...the High Court gave a landmark judgment to save rivers due to our movement. These are our achievements, but no river is still fully protected from grabbers and pollution."

Matin said it is a matter of deep regret that the government could not make any major progress in recovering any river though the Prime Minister is very serious about it. "Rather, river grabbing marked a sharp rise under its rule."

The green activists feel that the district and upazila administrations are major obstacle to saving rivers as they do not take any directives of the Prime Minister, ministers and court seriously. "I think the Prime Minister should give a strong message to administration and other authorities concerned that she wants to see the rivers are free from encroachment and pollution at any cost."

He said the High Court in 2009 clearly defined the three parts of rivers-bed, foreshore and bank -- and asked the authorities concerned to determine the exact boundaries of the four Dhaka rivers and install pillars on their banks.

But, the Bapa general secretary said the authorities deviating from the HC order wrongly demarcated the rivers and set up pillars in most places in riverbeds, excluding foreshore, creating a scope for grabbers to encroach upon those foreshores and banks.

He thinks though the onrush of water from the upstream and incessant rains are major reasons behind this year's floods. This is also a fact that the country's rivers are losing their capacity fast to hold waters due to nonstop grabbing and pollution.

Abu Naser Khan said the government is not getting any visible success in recovering the rivers for lack of a powerful body to deal with the issue and enforcement of laws.

He said the River Commission was formed without giving it any authority to implement major decisions. "The commission took many good decisions, but those have not been implemented."

The Poba chief said land grabbers are very influential having political clouts, muscle power and nexus with the administration. "So, without a strong political will and enforcement of laws, it won't be possible to stop river grabbing and recover the occupied lands."

Naser also said there should be strong monitoring over enforcement of laws to force industries to install effluent treatment plants (ETPs) and operate those regularly.