'This then hampers the natural state of the rivers and even alters its natural course of water flow'
Around 40% of the river water of Bangladesh got polluted due to Water Supply and Sewerage Authority's (Wasa) mismanagement, 30% from tannery business and the rest by the RMG sector, said Dr Ainun Nishat, professor emeritus at Brac University.
He announced the findings on the first day of the three-day (January 24-26) 5th International Water Conference organized by ActionAid Bangladesh (AAB), in Kuakata, Patuakhali on Friday.
The conference titled "Legalizing River Rights: People, Politics, and Practices" aims to promote sustainable usage and maintenance of water resources.
AAB Country Director Farah Kabir said that the themes for this year's conference are, people’s initiatives for the rights of rivers, policy reform, water museums, and education around water rights.
Speakers at the conference said that water diplomacy depends on very creative elements and technological advancements for solving a wide range of water problems across national borders.
Dr Nishat, during his address, said that local lawmakers force the government to build bridges and other infrastructures over rivers.
"This then hampers the natural state of the rivers and even alters its natural course of water flow.
"Rivers in Jessore and surrounding areas are dying because of excessive dredging thus a river which used to be 100 feet wide has now been reduced to 25 feet," he added.
He said: "Government itself is the biggest law breaker. Ministries do not cooperate among themselves. We have bought several dredgers but do not know what to do with them.
"I did not even find an engineer working at the Ministry of Water Resources who thought about the sediment load and movement before planning to dredge in rivers. The Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives is also destroying our rivers by constructing small bridges."
Dhaka University's International Relations Department teacher Prof Imtiaz Ahmed presented the keynote speech at the conference.
Dr Muzibur Rahman Howlader, chairman of the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC), also the chief guest at the conference, said:"In a recent meeting with some policymakers, I came to know that they believe the initiative to save our rivers can create social unrest!”
Government officials, academicians, researchers, river activists, development partners, community people, and media personnel both from home and abroad attended the three-day conference.
A total of 10 research papers on the issues regarding rivers and water crisis will be presented at the conference.