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Getting back the dying rivers

Posted on October 31, 2022

Given the fast shrinking of an appallingly large number of the land’s rivers, the days of urban kids haven’t yet started badgering their parents with entreaties: “Dad, show me a river.” The days, however, aren’t too far. Over 700 rivers are still flowing across the country. But a large number of them are already on the verge of part disappearance. Lots of distributaries and tributaries have long been declared beyond use, in terms of clear and usable waters, fish-catch and navigability. In the dry season, enough water isn’t there, which can be used in irrigation of the nearby crop fields, especially those of paddy. Media reports on the miserable state of the country’s rivers continue to be published. These news stories point the finger at the local river-encroachers and sand lifters, at times disclosing their identity, for the plight of the small rivers. In reality, Bangladesh doesn’t have any functional small rivers. Many such rivers have died out in the process of shrinking for long.

However, according to river-scientists, the river flows do not die for ever. Those can remain covered by sands and earth for long. The small rivers can be excavated and given their earlier look. In Bangladesh dozens of rivers are ‘declared’ dead, meaning as the rivers haven’t completely disappeared, they can be used for other purposes. Those include turning the earlier riverbanks into fields for cropping, or preparing private landed plots. However, many suspect few of the river experts are aware of this scientific river-related fact.

If the truth of the dead rivers’ revival is proved anywhere in the world, scores of rivers could be made to regain their earlier form in the rive-filled Bangladesh. In a country, where the authorities concerned are found reluctant to carry out the routine dredging work, their success in bringing rivers back is illusory. Moreover, the astronomically large expenses required for the project or projects may deter the policy makers from undertaking these schemes. It means poorer countries like Bangladesh cannot even afford the age-old dredging work. Against the backdrop of its rivers fast losing depth, the only option before the country is the imperative of turning to dredging. This widely adopted technological intervention can save hundreds of rivers and their branches from premature ‘dying out’. The country can give short shrift to this highly effective way-out only at its peril.

The more the river-saving forums expedite their activities, the gloomier the river lovers feel. These unique gifts of nature not only bring mental peace and bliss, and leisurely mood to people, rivers continue ensuring the survival of the country’s agro-based economy. Without growing sufficient volumes of the chief food crops, the nation will be compelled to be fully dependent on food aid and food import. The rivers have saved the country from a number of impediments to its self-sufficiency in food. On the other hand, the river-borne navigability and the river network across the country help the nation attain multi-faceted growth.

The average readers must have a clear idea on how narrow a river can be. It’s presumed that in most of their minds, the picture of a narrow river is one of a serpentine and sleek water body, which is thinner than a small river. People are seen crossing the river with their ‘lungis’ and trousers drawn up to their knees. But in this ill-fated country, a narrow river could be of the width of a little wider than an irrigation water-passage in a crop field. Thanks to their narrow width, many such so-called rivers, like the branches of Sylhet region’s ‘Khoyai’ and ‘Surma’, are beyond credulity.


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