River pollution in Bangladesh

Unabated atrocity on people’s right to safe water

[Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) Monitoring Cell works since 2005 with special emphasis on the rivers. Sources of information are secondary in nature & sources comprise contact points and movements all over the country, media references & academic expressions and issue based visits & examinations which will be depicted in this presentation.]

A. Introduction:

a. Bangladesh is a deltaic land created & flown over by numerous rivers; the land is also consistently nourished by their water flows. Bangladesh had 1400 to 1500 rivers in the 11th Century but reduced to 7 to 8 hundreds due to various natural anthropogenic factors during the establishment of the then East Pakistan. Presently no more than 230 to 310 rivers with numerous tributaries & distributaries are existent in the country out of which 25 rivers are already dead or going to die. Dozens of other are drying up gradually. Only around 100 rivers have navigable depth round the year at the moment. Total river route in the country in 1971 was 24,140 Km covering 8% country area now that has been reduced to 3800 km only during the lean flow period.

b. There are three principal river systems in the country: (a) Barak-Meghna (b) Brahmaputra-Jamuna & (c) Ganga-Padma. Teesta is no less important water flow for the country because it is the terminal tributary for the Brahmaputra. These systems and other all rivers carry a water load of about 1074 billion cubic meters (bcm) from the up stream sources. Rainfall adds another 251 bcm of water volume. Around 150 bcm of water is required to be available in the riverbeds to maintain navigability.

B. River Degradation through Physical Contaminants.

Physical Degradations include: reduced flow, siltation, erosion, cordon structures and encroachment.

a. Reduction of flows: Flow reduction becomes critical in 97% of the rivers in dry season (Nov to March). Causes of flow reduction include flow diversion and water withdrawal in upstream region mainly by India in all 54 rivers & partly by Myanmar through damming or other obstructive or diversionary infrastructures. Indian River Linking Project (IRLP) & Tipaimukh Dam will be last pins in our rivers coffin. (List of dammed rivers attached).

b. Silt deposition: Prolonged silt deposition meanwhile killed 187 rivers (28% of the rivers). All the rivers of Bangladesh carry about 3.8 billion tons of silt every year & 40- 45 million tons get deposited on the river beds. Many rivers lost their depths and about 77% of the river-mouths are silted meanwhile. Silt deposit rate has been increased in 574 rivers (i.e. 86%). (Lists of depth lost & mouth silted rivers attached).

c. River Erosion: 41% of the rivers in Bangladesh suffer from erosion. During the rainy season, erosion increases in some rivers.

d. Cordon Structures: 500 Flood Controlling drainage & irrigation projects taken in last 60 years have disconnected 35 million hectors of land from the rivers. Harmful & river killing structures were built on certain rivers causing immense negative impacts on them.

e. Unauthorized Encroachments: 158 rivers lost their width from unauthorized encroachments.

f. Instrumental & Organic dumping: Different abandoned parts of marine vehicles like wooden boats, steamers, fishing nets, boundaries used in dry seasons for fishing traps, plastics & other non-degradable items, house hold materials, rejected foods-fruits- vegetables etc are also causing further pollutions.

g. Unmanaged Hospital wastes: including seriously poisonous and infective materials are getting mixed knowingly or unknowingly all over the country & all over the year contributing to a huge biological pollution of the rivers & wetlands.

Degrading river having reduced water amount, more sediments, narrowing, cordoning, diversions, dry ups, commercialization, so called developments, unplanned re- excavations, changing characters, sluggish flows due to all the misbehaviors on the rivers mentioned above accelerate pollution & induce deaths of rivers finally, through more human accessibility & interventions in the rivers e.g. cross roads, sub-width bridges & culverts, regulators, long uninterrupted embankments, fishery projects, fishing traps & ponds, application of dirty fish feeds, chemical agriculture etc inside.

C. Chemical Contamination: Source of enormous public health threat.

a. About 11% of the rivers in Bangladesh are polluted by Industry wastes. Further escalations noted from agro-chemicals, marine vehicular discharges & wastes, municipal cum domestic wastes. As per governmental study, Rivers around Dhaka namely the Buriganga, Shitalakshya, Turag, Balu, Bangshi & Dhaleswary have earned notorious impression meanwhile, due to their huge pollutions from Industry wastes (60%), Municipal house-hold & City drainage of toilet wastes (30%). We could hear from a former state minister of water resources in late 90’s that a ten feet thick poly bags layer has made‘carpeting’ on the Buriganga river bed! The newly built beautiful Hatirjheel project is still pouring its dirty city wastes into the river Balu through the Narai khal without proper & adequate. So, especially during the winter season, all these rivers become absolutely poisonous, devoid of oxygen & marine life. Government looks like shy in executing the decision for mandatory fixation of ETPs in the industrial plants.

b. Excreta & dead bodies: play a significant role in polluting the rivers in Bangladesh. In spite of prolonged national drives, the nation is yet to achieve a satisfactory Sanitation management. Rivers and canals are major disposal venues for much amount of human & animal excreta (stool) as well as dead animal bodies especially by the river side inhabitants. Media sources revealed few years back that number of hanging latrines on the both sides of the river Karnaphulee was 1.5 lacs !

c. About 1.6 million tons of chemical fertilizers & 4-5 thousand tons of pesticides are used for agriculture every year. Though illegal, the notorious ‘dirty dozen’ group of illegally imported 9 out of 12 Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are also being used all over the country for agricultural & house hold purposes. These are: Eldrin, Dieldrin, Chlorden, DDT, Endrin, Heptochlor, Mirax & Toxafen. A huge portion of these dangerous items are carried by rain water & flood flushes causing huge contamination to the rivers, wetlands, ponds, soil and finally entering the food chains & human cum animal bodies as permanent pollutants causing numerous deadly diseases.

d. Marine vehicular discharges: chemical contamination resulted in sediments amounting 1.7 to 2.4 billion tons are causing 35 millions tons of silt deposits in the rivers.

D. Transboundary mixed pollution:

Transboundary river pollution is also a significant factor for Bangladesh. All the plain land & hilly rivers are carrying huge amount of wastes from a big area of India around Bangladesh and a part of Myanmar. The components include eroded river bank soils, peeled off hilly stones, boulders, construction materials from urban developmental projects & hydel power plants, dam constructions, contaminated mountains & glaciers, run off urban wastes, coal dusts, grabbles, sandy floods, suspected radiation materials and municipal wastes from Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura, West Bengal and border side Myanmar.

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