Inland waterways in a moribund state


Category : Mirkadim

Khalilur Rahman
Country’s inland water route is in a moribund state. The navigability of the rivers has fallen at an alarming rate. The situation has come to such a pass that nearly 90 % rivers in Bangladesh has already lost navigability. This has led to the closure of river routes either permanently or partially.

Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan told parliament last week during question-answer session that 58 river routes have been closed and there are many more rivers in the country which do not exist. Only four routes, Dhaka-Chandpur-Chittagong, Chandpur -Narayanganj -Bhairab, Narayanganj -Mirkadim and Barisal-Pathangat possess required depth for plying vessels having 12 to 13 feet draught. The shipping minister told the House that Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has initiated dredging of the rivers Padma, Jamuna, Meghna, Arial Khan, Kirtankhola, Modhumoti and their tributaries.

Over the years the environmentalists and cross section of people are demanding of the government to save the rivers in the country as those are losing their depth at a faster pace and being occupied by land grabbers. Already considerable damage has been caused to aquatic life. Industrial pollutants and all other wastes find their way into rivers, canals and water bodies under the knowledge of concerned authorities. This has resulted in destruction of aquatic plants, fishes and other living species.

The Bangladesh Fisheries Development Corporation (BFDC) with financial and technical assistance of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations conducted a survey on rivers recently. The survey report reveals that about 100 species of fish have become extinct. Other reports suggest that a good number of fishes which are still available may go out of existence in the absence of proper measures. Particularly, in northern region of the country major rivers and their tributaries are in the process of drying up.

The Teesta, once a mighty river has lost its navigability to such an extent that large countryboats carrying cargoes to different corners of the region are no longer found. The condition of other rivers of the northen zone-Ghagat, Atrai,Chikli, Ichamoti, Kanchon, Burikhora, Dahuk and Choto Jamuna is also the same. Every year the rivers are dried-up completely during the dry session providing vast tracts of land to the farmers for cultivation of crops. Children play, cattle graze on the lands over which big rivers used to flow throughout the year. The land grabbers are, in many places, have seized the opportunity to earn money through allowing growers to cultivate the silted river beds. In Rangpur Division, about 13 big rivers once flowed covering eight districts. The people who irrigated their farmlands by water from those rivers are now helpless. Hundreds of boatmen in these areas have also been rendered jobless.

On the other hand, landless people along the Teesta river are found happy because they can cultivate various crops on shoals. There are strong indications that the silted rivers will serve the purpose of either crop land or farmland of the people in near future. Drying up of the rivers, according to experts, has resulted in climate change causing droughts ,flash floods, severe erosion and other natural calamities. The siltation of the Teesta and Brahmaputra basins calls for urgent regional cooperation to face the impending danger.

The trade and commerce through the inland water route has been gravely affected. The river transports offer the cheapest means of communication for passengers and cargoes. Carrying of fertilizers, oil and other essential commodities by the rivers has become difficult, if not impossible. This, in turn, has enhanced the prices of various essential items due to increased costs involved in road transports.

The government has taken an eight-year master plan for dredging of 53 river channels at a cost of Tk 147 billion. Under the plan, 17 dredgers are in the process of procurement by the authorities.

The task of dredging so many rivers, in our view, is so huge, expensive and time-consuming that we may opt for doing the job under Food for Work Programme (FWP). If the excavation of rivers and canals under FWP is taken, it will not only create vast employment opportunity for people, particularly the rural folk, but the cost will also be much less than mechanical dredging.

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