Every year, World Rivers Day is being observed in Bangladesh with various programs highlighting the importance of protecting the rivers that are facing an array of threats. This year, with the theme “Encroachment & Pollution Free Rivers: Save Life and Nature”, the day was celebrated on last Sunday, 24th of September. Though World Rivers Day is being celebrated since 2005, Buriganga Riverkeeper formally started to celebrate this day since 2012.
Figure 1: Colorful procession in Dhaka to celebreate World Rivers Day
Unlike every year, World Rivers Day was celebrated in different parts of Bangladesh this year. Members of Waterkeeper Alliance in Bangladesh along with various environmental and social organizations, arranged multiple events and activities in Dhaka, Khulna, Sylhet divisions and New York City to celebrate this day all across the country and globe.
World Rivers Day Coordination Council, Bangladesh (50 organizations’ forum formed by the initiative of Buriganga Riverkeeper and BAPA) organized a program titled as “March for the River” from the Bahadur Shah Park to the river Buriganga (Sadarghat Terminal) on Saturday 23rd of September, 2017. Before the march began, a brief gathering was held at Bahadur Shah Park. The Coordinator of National River Saving Movement Dr. Mohd Abdul Matin presided over and Sharif Jamil, Buriganga Riverkeeper moderated the event while Honorable Water Resources Minister of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Barrister Anisul Islam Mahmud MP gave the inauguration speech as the chief guest. Member of National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) Sharmeen Murshid, 23 No. Ward Councilor of Dhaka South City Corporation Alhaj Md. Humayun Kabir, President of River Saving Network – UK Rafiqul Hasan Jinnah, Zakia Shishir, Haoracholbasi and Secretary General of Riverine People Sheikh Rokon spoke during the inauguration of the march.
Figure 2: Honorable Water Resources Minister Barrister Anisul Islam Mahmud giving his speech during the gathering in Dhaka
After the inauguration, a festive march of banner-festoon-placards and colored balloons along with a music band started from historic Bahadur Shah Park and ended in Sadarghat Terminal by the bank of the Buriganga. Environment activists, students, youth and river bank people from different background participated in the march, along with representatives of 50 organizations.
Honourable Minister Barrister Anisul Islam Mahmud MP said in his speech, “The history of Bangladesh is revolved around the rivers. We have to conserve the rivers and the nature for our own sake. Due to the adverse effects of the nature, we are facing landslides, flood, river erosion and many other disasters. The impact of climate change is increasing day by day. We have to fight against the river encroachers and polluters from our own stance. Through regional cooperation, conflicts of 54 transboundary rivers have to be resolved to ensure the rights of riverbank people. The pollution in Buriganga is becoming deadly. Tannery relocation decreased the pollution rate by 40% to the Buriganga. We are trying our best to keep the Buriganga free of pollution and to stop the disposal of the City Corporation and WASA wastes, including industrial wastes, household wastes.”
Sharmeen Murshid said, “Rivers need to be protected for the sake of the nature-environment-economy and future development of Bangladesh. The government has done a commendable job by forming National River Conservation Commission (NRCC); we have to make this commission even stronger.”
Md. Humayun Kabir said, “As citizens of Bangladesh, we all have responsibilities towards the protection of our rivers. We all have to make a commitment that we will not pollute or encroach the rivers. I am doing my part as the representative of the people.”
Dr. Mohd Abdul Matin said, “The symbol of unity to protect the rivers resembles in the march today. This unity will be stronger in the near future. In spite of so many movements, forming of Task Force and NRCC, rivers in Bangladesh has still not been free from pollution and encroachment since the last 8 years. The people of this country are hurt and frustrated today. Therefore, our movement will continue until all the disrupted rivers of the country are rescued. After his speech, Dr. Mohd. Abdul Matin recited a pledge in front of hundreds of people.”
On the following day, a seminar titles as “Crisis of Bangladesh’s Rivers and Way out Solution” was held at the VIP Lounge of National Press Club. The seminar was jointly organized by National River Conservation Commission (NRCC), Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), Riverine People and Waterkeepers Bangladesh. The seminar was presided over by the General Secretary of BAPA Dr. Mohd. Abdul Matin. Honorable Minister for the Ministry of Shipping and the Chairman of National Taskforce for the Rivers of Bangladesh Shajahan Khan MP was present as the chief guest. Chairman of NRCC Md. Ataharul Islam and NRCC’s one of the members Sharmeen Murshid were also present as special guests in the seminar. First full-time member of NRCC Md. Alauddin, Coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh & Joint Secretary of BAPA Sharif Jamil and Secretary General of Riverine People Sheikh Rokon were the designated speakers. President of River Saving Network – UK Rafiqul Hasan Jinnah and Coordinator of ‘Buriganga Bachao Andolon’ Mihir Biswas spoke among others.
As the chief guest, Honorable Minister Shajahan Khan said in his speech, “Bangladesh is a land of rivers. Our culture and heritage has been developed around rivers. However, many rivers are losing their existence from this country. Father of our nation was deeply concerned about protecting our rivers. We are continuing our effort to protect rivers from pollution by dredging rivers to increase the navigability of the river. Already 118 waterways have been identified which needs to be dredged. Four roads which hinder the flow of Boral River is getting deconstructed to revive the river once again. On the other hand, steps have been taken to amend the defects in the construction of the boundary pillar. Government and the people have to unite in order to protect the rivers of Bangladesh. A nation’s economy greatly depends on how the country uses the resources of its rivers.”
Md. Ataharul Islam said, “A river court has to be established in order to strictly implement the laws and regulations of rivers. He demanded the government to collect accurate information on rivers, to create circular round waterways, to recover canal-water reservoirs, to attempt for acquiring equitable sharing of water in the international forum with the common rivers in the region, to ratify UN Watercourse Convention 1997.”
Figure 3: Honorable Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan during his speech in the seminar in Dhaka
Sharmeen Murshid said, “The upper level decisions taken by the Task Force has to be implemented. We have to make the task force even stronger. Encroachers have to be punished, and local water forum should be formed to discuss proper management of the common rivers. We all have to play our parts to protect the rivers of Bangladesh.”
Md Alauddin said, “Rivers in Bangladesh are in great danger. Illegal encroachment, pollution, erosion are destroying our rivers continuously. National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) has taken multiple steps in order to protect and conserve the rivers of Bangladesh. The government has decided to stop wetland lease. Industrial pollution, illegal structures and excessive sand extraction are destroying the rivers each day. He urged the National River Conservation Commission to plan and implement proper directive actions to protect the rivers.”
Sharif Jamil urged the government to take initiative to solve the issues regarding common rivers and to ensure the rights of the riverbank people. He requested the Joint River Commission to take effective steps to bring the five countries of this region into an organizational structure. He added, “Lack of law and policy implementation, unplanned development around the rivers, mismanagement of river issues, poor governance are some of the primary problems; responsible for the destruction of the rivers in Bangladesh.”
Sheikh Rokon said, “In order to ensure equitable share of common rivers for their benefits and recognition, the government has to launch a proposition for an agreement called ‘India-Bangladesh River Agreement’.” In his speech Dr. Mohd Abdul Matin requested to form and implement an effective river policy to protect the rivers of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) Habiganj branch and Khowai River Waterkeeper organized a discussion meeting titled as “Let Rivers Flow Naturally for Lives” at the premises of Habiganj Girls’ High School on 24th of September, 2017. Vice Principal of Government Women’s College Professor Nazmul Haque, Tahmina Begum of BAPA’s Habiganj unit, Headmaster of Habiganj Girls’ High School Rokeya Khatun and Dr. S.S Al-Amin Suman attended as special guests at the meeting presided over by Professor Md. Ikramul, President of BAPA’s Habiganj branch and coordinated by Khowai River Waterkeeper Tofazzal Sohel.
Figure 4: Discussion meeting arranged by BAPA Habiganj Branch & Khowai River Waterkeeper in Habiganj
Speakers at a discussion in Habiganj town marking World Rivers Day demanded immediate action against grabbers and polluters of Khowai and Sutang. Professor Md. Ikramul said, “We are not seeing any effective initiatives to protect Khowai, Old Khowai, Sutang and Sonai on which the ecological balance of Habiganj relies on. We are trying to create awareness. However, if the government officials and the conscious well-beings do not play a proper role in protecting the environment, then the conditions of the rivers and the district will be destroyed in near future.”
Tofazzal Sohel said, “We have to save the rivers from getting destroyed. Polluters and encroachers are making profits by killing the rivers all around the country. Sand extraction is also one of the major problems which needs to be dealt with. Due to irrigation insufficiency, farmers from nearby villages have abandoned paddy farming and switched to vegetable cultivation. Pollution has taken a serious turn as chemical wastes from nearby small factories are disposed in narrowed Khowai and Sutang rivers. But the authorities concerned remain silent on this matter.”
As the chief guest, Prominent Journalist Advocate Mansur Uddin Ahmed Iqbal said in his speech, “Lack of waste management system in Habiganj town is the major cause of pollution to Khowai and Sutang rivers. Influential people have been grabbing land on the riverbanks during the past few years. Human wastes from open toilets on the riverbanks and across the town also find their way into the river through drains and canals.” Moinul Islam, a resident of Rampur area in Habiganj Sadar upazila, said, “Current status of Khowai is that the river is very narrow and polluted. It is difficult to walk near the river due to stench. The people residing by the river will face the risk of getting waterborne diseases if nothing is done.” Touhidul Islam, Executive Engineer of Water Development Board (WDB) in Habiganj, apologized for the current situation of Khowai as the river continues to face pollution and encroachment. He said, “We are preparing a list of encroachers and polluters to take initiative for recovering the lands of the two rivers. These rivers play in a vital role to maintain geographical balance in our region.”
Figure 5: Memorandum is being provided to the District Commissioner of Habiganj
Later that day, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) Habiganj Branch and Khowai River Watekeeper gave a memorandum to the Water Resources Minister demanding the excavation of Khowai River and the evacuation of illegal structures on the river banks. The memorandum was given to the District Commissioner of Habiganj. There were five (5) demands in the memorandum. Firstly, Khowai River has to be excavated to the depth of 10 feet more than the average riverbed. Secondly, the illegal occupation and the establishment of both banks of the embankments have to be evicted. Thirdly, the weaker and damaged parts of the dam has to be repaired. Fourthly, unplanned and unregulated sand-soil extraction has to be shut down. Finally, the disposed wastes by the bank of the river has to be cleared out and waste disposal in the river has to be stopped. President of BAPA’s Habiganj branch Professor Md. Ikramul, former Chairman of Habiganj Municipality Shahid Uddin Chowdhury, Vice President of BAPA’s Habiganj branch Tahmina Begum Gini, General Secretary of BAPA & Khowai River Waterkeeper Tofazzal Sohel, Alauddin Ahmed, Aminul Islam and others were present at the event.
Pashur River Waterkeeper and Waterkeepers Bangladesh jointly organized a human chain event to celebrate World Rivers Day. Demanding the protection of Pashur River from erosion, pollution, encroachment and illegal infrastructures, the human chain was held at the Kolatola Village by the bank of Pashur, located beside the Sundarbans. During the human chain, Pashur River Waterkeeper Md. Noor Alam Sheikh presided over the event. Nazmul Haque from Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), Women Leader Gita Haldar, Mohammad Harunur Rashid, Pashur River Waterkeeper Volunteer Md. Al Amin and others gave their speeches at the event. Md. Noor Alam Sheikh said, “The Pashur River is the life source of the Sundarbans. Thus, this river has to be protected from ongoing encroachment, pollution and erosion.” People residing near the Sundarbans demanded to stop unplanned industrialization which will damage the ecosystem of the mangrove forest itself. Different professionals including, teachers, students, forest workers, fishermen, honey collectors, general public were present at the event.
Figure 6: Pashur River Waterkeeper Md. Noor Alam Sheikh giving his speech during the human chain in Mongla
At Jalalabad Association office in New York, a meeting was held to discuss the environmental conflicts in Sylhet Division, the ongoing movement of environmentalists and the responsibilities of Bangladeshi people living in foreign lands. Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) and Jalalabad Association of America jointly organized this discussion meeting. President of Jalalabad Association of America Ink Badrul Islam Khan presided over the meeting while Syed Fazlur Rahman of BEN coordinated the meeting. Vice President of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) and Global Coordinator of Bangladesh Environment Network Professor Dr. Nazrul Islam gave keynote speeches in the meeting.
Dr. Nazrul Islam said in his speech, “The ongoing process of destroying the environment in Sylhet division is really unfortunate. In this situation, the united initiative and cooperation of expatriates is essential. Many Bangladeshis are working at universities and research centers established in different countries of the world. Their initiatives and contribution to protect the environment from different stages can be an inspiration for all of us to fight for the protection of our environment.”
General Secretary of BAPA’s Sylhet Branch and Surma River Waterkeeper Abdul Karim Kim said, “Hundreds of rivers are flowing around Surma-Kushiara. But these rivers are dying day by day. Khowai, Monu and many rivers in Sylhet region are being filled up along with numerous water reservoirs and ponds.” Freedom Fighter Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed said, “Natural and environmental degradation is currently the main problem of Sylhet Division. But it is still beyond the comprehension of so many people. Especially, the expatriates are not well aware of environmental issues in Sylhet.”
Figure 7: During the discussion meeting in NYC
Badrul Islam Khan said, “We have to immediately start working to save the natural environment of Sylhet. Environmental activists or organizations cannot do this on their own. People from different walks of life have to work together to find a solution towards the problem before it is too late.”
Later that day, a human chain was jointly organized by Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN), Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) and Surma River Waterkeeper at Diversity Plaza of Jackson Heights, New York City. The human chain lasted for one and a half hour. US Bangladeshi residents of different demographics participated in the human chain holding colorful placards with different statements with a clear message to save the rivers of Bangladesh and Sylhet.
A gathering was held during the human chain. Organizer of Bangladesh Environment Network Rana Ferdous presided over the gathering while writer Ishtiaque Rupu was in charge of coordination. The designated keynote speaker Abdul Karim Kim said, “Surma River is being filled up. Surma will lose its existence if no dredging is done. We have already demanded for its revival to Bangladesh.” He urged the people living in the US to come forward to save the rivers which are endangered back in Bangladesh.
Figure 8: Surma River Waterkeeper Abdul Karim Kim giving his speech during the human chain in NYC
Rana Ferdous said, “Continuous movements have enlightened the people to worry and take actions for rivers. The government is also being forced to put emphasize on river protection. Honorable Prime Minister has already formed a Task Force and River Commission to protect the rivers of Bangladesh.”