Overwhelming levels of contamination from untreated factory effluents is causing serious health and environmental hazards in the locality
Bangladesh is a riverine country in which hundreds of rivers flow. But most of these rivers are constantly being polluted, causing serious health and environmental hazards.
Such is the case in Habiganj district under Sylhet division, where the Sutang River that had once brought its rural people good fortune and livelihood opportunities now brings only death and disaster.
Constant pollution from nearby factories has turned the water black and the air around it thick, foul-smelling and hard to breathe.
As a result, local lives are now under threat from looming health hazards as well as the possibility of catastrophic impacts on key livelihoods, including fishing, agriculture and poultry.
Use of the contaminated water brings death and diseases to adults and children alike, with no exception even for cattle and farm animals.
The river, once home to various fish populations, is now inhospitable for any aquatic creatures and the river water is unsuitable for irrigation because of high levels of contamination.
The pollution is affecting at least 15 villages in Sadar and Lakhai upazila, with Korab, Lukra, Nurpur and Rajiura having the worst of it.
Several attempts made by local representatives and environmentalists to save the river have all failed and the level of industrial pollution continues to rise.
Maqsood Ali, a resident of Chanpur in Rajiura union under Sadar upazila, said the Sutang River has now become a curse for local residents. “The river water has now become so poisonous that even though this is the time when fishermen are supposed to fish all day, no one dares to go near the river.
“People get infected with various water-borne diseases by getting into the river. Farmlands cannot be irrigated with water from the river. The char areas surfacing on the river banks aren’t suitable for agriculture either.”
Abdul Hakim, a 65-year-old resident of Gadainagar, said: “We can't stay home and we have trouble breathing due to the foul stench of the polluted river. The river hasn’t been dredged since the emergence of the country.”
Tofazzol Sohel, Khowai River waterkeeper and general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon said: “Bangladesh is a riverine country and civilization around here has developed around rivers. If rivers are destroyed, how will people survive?
“Dumping untreated effluents in the environment is in direct violation of the current laws and regulations of the country. But that is exactly what is happening in Habiganj. The much important Sutang River is being polluted by industrial waste. Waste from the companies is easily discharged into the Sutang River through canals.”
“Due to industrial waste pollution, the Sutang River has become void of fish. People are being deprived of a clean and convenient source of water and are being affected by various diseases. Crop production has declined at an alarming rate as well.”
Habiganj Deputy Commissioner Md Kamrul Hasan said the district administration had taken various steps to free the Sutang River from pollution and encroachment. “We have tasked the Water Development Board to file lawsuits against various errant companies for polluting the river. Besides, eviction drives against illegal occupants of Sutang River are to start soon.”