Environmentalists around the world are fighting for the protection of rivers. Is the important connection of water and rivers with the environment the only reason for this? Or is it because of the immeasurable importance of rivers in their livelihood that people are united and constantly struggling to protect these? Due to various reasons, the main rivers of our country are losing their features day by day. Everything is failing to balance the environment. But to overcome this situation, everyone has to work from their place to save the environment and bring the river back to normal.
Sustainable development requires balancing the environment with economic development. According to the different studies, 68 billion tons of natural resources were used till 2009. By 2050, 140 billion tons will be used, which will paralyse the balance of the world. Bangladesh will have lost 20 per cent of cultivable land, 30 per cent of forest land and 10 per cent of grazing land. Agricultural land in Bangladesh is declining by 1 per cent every year. Biodiversity is becoming destroyed. More than half of the rivers are destroyed. The rest is ruined by occupiers.
To establish the economy that we need for sustainable development, the rivers must regain their lost glory and current. Rivers are closely associated with our nature and environment. We have to move forward with everyone for sustainable development and river protection. The use of the river is now multidimensional. People are using the river without realising it. Large factories have sprung up near the rivers and thousands of vessels are now on the rivers. There are hundreds of dams too. Rivers are being used as and when required.
About 78 million people in the world cannot drink pure water now and there is no adequate drainage system for 2.5 billion people. Every year 60-70 lakh people are dying of water-borne diseases. The availability of water in different parts of the world is decreasing day by day. However, by 2050, the amount of water used in agriculture alone could increase by 19 percent. Without technological advancement or policy mediation, it could escalate further.
Bangladesh is a riverine country. Due to the adverse effects of climate change, rivers change their course frequently. As a result, char land has become a common sight in Bangladesh and cultivable land is declining. There are about 109 char Upazilas in 32 districts of Bangladesh. Seven small and big rivers flow through this small country. Human occupation, way of life and literature and culture — everything is directly or indirectly dependent on the river. In our country, river water is used in land cultivation near the river. The crops produced are taken to the city by the river. Rivers are an integral part of our social life and one of the driving forces of the national economy. Understanding the importance of the river is therefore most important.
Most of the rivers of the country including Dhaka are now dying due to pollution. Especially around Dhaka, Shitalakshya, Turag and Buriganga are being tagetted by the occupiers
By 2030, the growing population is expected to increase food demand by 50 per cent, which will be 70 per cent by 2050, while total energy demand, including hydropower and other renewable energy resources, will increase by 60 per cent. Increased agricultural production will greatly increase competition in both water and energy demand in water-used fields.
Most of the rivers of the country including Dhaka are now dying due to pollution. Especially around Dhaka, Shitalakshya, Turag and Buriganga are being targetted by the occupiers. We get similar news from almost all districts and upazilas outside Dhaka in the media. But the biggest news is that government institutions are ahead in the competition for possession. Of the 67 major pollutants in the Buriganga, 56 are under Dhaka WASA and BSCIC, a few city corporations, are not far behind the private industries in terms of pollution of Turag, Balu and Shitalakshya. Not only in Dhaka, but all over the country, the river is tired and ruined today due to destructive hostility.
The situation has reached such a stage that the existence of many rivers is now under threat. Many rivers can no longer be found in reality. Of the 405 rivers in the country, 165 are on the verge of extinction in the last four decades due to encroachment and pollution. The remaining 240 are also at risk. 24,000 kilometers of waterways have been reduced to about 6,000 kilometers. Agriculture, communications, the environment, biodiversity, human livelihoods are all under threat. The need to protect rivers and reservoirs cannot be overstated. Environmental groups, human rights groups say, are being talked about by officials at various levels of government, from the very top. But nothing is happening on ground.
The importance of regional common river management for overcoming the effects of climate change is immense. For that, we have to emphasise river management based on the agreement that exists between India and Bangladesh. We have to move forward with a political decision in this regard. The young generation has to be involved in the fight to build a beautiful Bangladesh of the future by protecting rivers and the environment. To protect the river, it is necessary to solve the river problem through the implementation of the water policy of 1999 and the water act of 2013. For that, first of all, we have to work by involving the victims and the victims with any plan.
The river must be protected by taking action against the persons and organizations responsible for river occupiers and river pollution. We can save the river if we can move forward with proper planning by controlling sand extraction and dumping and for all this, the river must be protected through the unity of political parties, civil society and the younger generation. We need to protect future generations from the effects of climate change.
Like the COVID-19 crisis, floods and river erosion have become a major crisis for the people. Waterlogging is one of the major problems facing people today. For all this, the river must be protected by ensuring navigability. We are all beneficiaries of the river, but some direct stakeholders are exploiting the river in the same way. Such as some factories, hospitals, launch-steamer traders and occupiers. If this continues, water will become unusable in agriculture and at the same time, various diseases and pests will spread.
The incidence of water-borne diseases is increasing day by day. To ensure sustainable development in the country, river occupation and river pollution must be stopped. The rivers of the country are on the verge of destruction due to the profiteers and riverine occupiers, the river must be protected from them.
Rivers are losing luster due to unplanned development. In the interest of sustainable development, the main task in this situation is to innovate and apply new strategies to adapt to the changed situation.
Necessary preparations need to be made to reduce human suffering. Measures should be taken to protect croplands as much as possible from saline water outbreaks. Necessary measures have to be taken to prevent a large number of people from being displaced due to drought, river erosion etc. There is need to innovate climate tolerant farming methods.
While a committee works to create various social awareness in river protection, the district administration nor the water development board alone can save the river. Everyone must come forward for this. Above all, the government needs to accelerate the work of public-private projects with medium and long-term plans. Similarly, the accountability of these works should be ensured.
Hiren Pandit is a researcher and columnist