Posted by: ecodestination | May 24, 2009

Bangladesh’s rivers “a black gel”

Child gathering rubbish from Buriganga River

Child gathering rubbish from Buriganga River

The city of Dhaka and the Buriganga River that flows through it in Bangladesh used to be ecologically alive—it held oxygen, flowed freely, hosted ecosystems.

Now, people describe it as “a black gel.” Mmm. 

This is a royal catastrophe, as the river supplies 12 million people with drinking, cooking, and washing water, plus serves as a road for people to travel and a source of food—fish, now all dead. The Buriganga River has become so thick with unfiltered human and industrial waste, plus “burnt engine oil from launches, dyes from tanneries and textile mills, unauthorized practice of land filling, to name a few” that traveling on it is  burdensome–plus practically unbearable due to the stench.  In the dry season, oxygen levels can drop to zero.

One of the canals pouring unfiltered toxic waste into the Buriganga River

One of the canals pouring unfiltered toxic waste into the Buriganga River

“Much of the Buriganga is now gone, having fallen to ever insatiable land grabbers and industries dumping untreated effluents into the river,” said Ainun Nishat, a leading environmental expert. “The water of the Buriganga is now so polluted that all fish have died, and increasing filth and human waste have turned it like a black gel. Even rowing across the river is now difficult for it smells so badly.”

Even worse, I think, is that it’s not the only river in the region that is this obscenely polluted. There are about 230 in Bangladesh, and “many of them” are drying up with 1.5 million cubic meters of toxic sludge every day. And yet the pictures in this article show a man submerged in the river.

“Yet, in spite of all this nothing is being done. Buriganga is on the verge of extinction, pollution is choking its life blood and the very city …Today Buriganga has lost its biodiversity and marine life; in place of its once famous fresh water fish now dead animals float in the water that is as dark as pitch and as potently deadly as arsenic. The saddest part is that we the inhabitants of Dhaka who are heavily dependent on this river have so far been passive in the role of savior.” – The New Nation, “Bangladesh’s  independent news source”

Man submerged in the Buriganga River

Man submerged in the Buriganga River

Maybe once you’ve lived there all your life, you experience the frog effect and it doesn’t repel you as it would an outsider—you know, the experiment in which a frog was placed in a pot of water, and the water was slowly heated until it reached boiling the point. You guessed it: the frog died. It didn’t notice it was getting so hot because it happened gradually. But when a frog was tossed into boiling water, it jumped right out—which is what an outsider may do, someone who hasn’t seen the river gradually turn into sludge. That person would not be as desensitized. That person probably wouldn’t jump into the river. Eeeek.

There also may be no other place from which to get water or bathe.

“Water in the Buriganga and Turag rivers have literally turned into poison” – Dr. MA Taher Khandker, director general of Bangladesh Haor and Wetland Development Board

Health Effects

Surprisingly, no one is talking about the health effects on the young man covered in black waste up to his neck, on the kids stepping into the river to “collect rubbish.” And if the man who is washing his clothes by the river is washing them in the river, his skin will become covered in bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxic waste. Maybe authorities don’t want to cause panic and incite rebellion.

You can read about crops being watered and later washed with this river water, and the consequential consumption of toxins by humans.

Hope for the future

Reuters says environmentalists are hopeful that if companies stop bribing authorities and filter their waste before dumping it into the Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitalakkhya Rivers, they could recover. The idea would be dredge the rivers and fill them with clean water from the upstream. Let’s hope it works and the water is kept potable.

Md Arifur Rahman, member-secretary of Bapa’s Programme Committee on Finance, Trade and Development, said the 2009-10 fiscal year budget, as well as policies,  should prioritize the cleaning up of these waterways. But will anyone take concrete action?

The river Turag is getting drastically narrower near Ijtema Maidan in Tongi as land encroachers pile up sands indiscriminately on the riverbank

"The river Turag is getting drastically narrower near Ijtema Maidan in Tongi as land encroachers pile up sands indiscriminately on the riverbank"

Also, the High Court came up with an order to stop encroachment, earth filling and illegal developments on the Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitalakkhya Rivers—which is narrowing the flows and polluting them. The order was obtained thanks to a writ petition filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB). Rock on, HRPB.

The High Court also addressed the federal government, challenging it to explain why the illegal structures aren’t being removed. There will be a hearing on June 1.



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