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World Rivers Day: Encroachment, pollution choking Karnaphuli River

  • Published at 05:35 pm September 26th, 2020
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Birds eye view of a portion of the Karnaphuli River in Chittagong Wikimedia Commons

Chittagong City Corporation collects only 40% of the garbage produced in the city every day, the remaining 60% of garbage gets mixed with the river in some way or the other, says an expert

Rampant encroachment and unchecked pollution are literally killing Karnaphuli River, the lifeline of Chittagong which originated from the Lushai hills of Mizoram in India.

According to a recent survey carried out by a green organization, the river has shrunk to 410 metres from 866 metres in width at Shah Amanat Bridge point in a span of only six years.

A huge amount of sediment has accumulated at the estuaries of Chaktai and Rajakhali canals since the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) has not excavated the river, the survey revealed.

No boat can navigate through the spots where sediment has been deposited. As a result, waterlogging has extended from Chaktai to Bahadderhat areas of the city, the survey report pointed out.

The free flow of the river has been obstructed as the excavation has not been done by the CPA, according to the report.

The survey also found that strong currents were created during high tide and low tide as sediment had deposited at the northern side of the river. The strong current renders the Shah Amanat Bridge vulnerable.

Grabbing spree run rampant

Different establishments like jetties, shops, canteens, clubs, fertilizer manufacturing companies, power oil plants, and dry docks have sprung up illegally over time on both sides of the largest river in Chittagong region.

An inspection report prepared by the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) revealed the appalling encroachment scenario of the river.

On April 21, 2019, NRCC Chairman Dr Muzibur Rahman Howlader made a visit to the river and found that different organizations were constructing structures encroaching on the riverbanks.

The commission also found that the river bank was being filled up by earth and sand which constricted and obstructed the river flow, which is in total violation of the existing rules.

During the inspection, members of the commission acknowledged that the way the grabbing spree is going on, Karnaphuli River, known as the gateway of Chittagong port, would soon narrow down.

Consequently, the floodplain of the river will not be able to retain additional water during floods. Moreover, the conveyance capacity of the river will sharply fall. The river will fail to combat natural calamities like cyclone, storm and tidal surge as the sea level is rising due to climate change. Furthermore, the navigability of the river will also be at risk, mentioned the inspection report.

According to the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act, 1950, river foreshore cannot be leased out and no organization can build structures encroaching or filling up the river.

However, river foreshore has been allotted to Karnaphuli Dry Dock Special Economic Zone Ltd, violating the aforementioned act.

After inspecting the river on December 12, 2018, the commission forwarded a report with a 16-point recommendation to the concerned government agencies in order to save the river.

In the report, the river commission requested the district administration to evict all the illegal structures based on the list of the grabbers. The CPA was asked to cooperate with the district administration regarding the eviction drives.

Eviction drives stalled

On August 16 in 2016, the High Court, in response to a writ petition, had directed the authorities concerned to remove 2,112 structures illegally built on the banks of the river.

Complying with the High Court order, Chittagong district administration launched the long-awaited eviction drives on the river banks on February 4 last year.

However, the eviction drives got stalled after some days.

Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Chittagong Additional Deputy Commissioner (Revenue) SM Zakaria said that the pace of the eviction drive slackened due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

“We will fix the date for resuming the eviction after holding a meeting of the district river protection committee on Sunday,” the ADC said.

Dolphin a rare sight now

According to marine biologists, the first condition of the dolphin distribution is clear and pollution-free water. Dolphins are a species which are called bioindicators. So the presence of a great number of dolphins in a particular area is an indicator of pollution-free water.

“Dolphins, locally known as Shushuk, were frequently spotted while ferrying the river on a boat. However, the dolphins have now become a rare right in the river due to mindless pollution,” said Aliur Rahman, general secretary of Movement to Protect Rivers and Canals of Chittagong.

Indigenous fish species decline

Native fish populations in the Karnaphuli River have seen a sharp decline in recent years due to untreated solid and liquid waste discharged from industrial units and households. 

Many fish species like Chitol, Rita, Modhu Pabda, Rupchanda and Borguni are not netted as before.

The green activists alleged that most industries were running without the Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) facilities and thereby posing a serious threat to the aquatic ecological balance of the Karnaphuli.

Prof Dr Manjurul Kibria of Zoology department at Chittagong University said: “Once the Karnaphuli was abundant with a total of 140 fish species which include 66 species of freshwater, 59 species of brackish water and 15 species of migratory fish. However, 20-25 species of freshwater and 10 species of brackish water have already become extinct while the rest fish species are also in peril.”

14 reasons identified

The master plan for checking pollution, improving navigability, and stopping encroachment has identified a total of 14 reasons for the pollution of Karnaphuli River.

According to the master plan, the absence of sewage treatment plants (STP) is one of the major causes behind the river pollution.

Due to the absence of STP, 70% of the household water directly finds its way into the river.

Moreover, as many as 50,000 sanitary and 24,000 unhygienic traditional latrines of the port city are directly linked to the river.

The port city of six million people produces a staggering 2500 tons of waste every day, which is dumped under the open sky in two landfills.

Due to the absence of a proper waste management system, the waste gets washed away with rainwater and mixes with the river.

Besides, there are 400 slaughterhouses in the port city’s Firingi Bazar and Dewanhat areas alone. The blood from the slaughtered animals directly finds its way into the river.

Besides, polluted water from fertilizer run-off finds its way into the sea and hampers the growth of underwater plants. Consequently, the Dissolved Oxygen (DO) level is falling posing a threat to aquatic animals.

Fifty-two small and large canals of the port city carry 22,000 tons of waste, both biodegradable and non-biodegradable, to the river every day.

The non-biodegradable waste such as polythene gets deposited on the riverbed. 

Moreover, the people living on the banks of the canals dump household waste directly into the canals, which ultimately finds its way into the river.

Iron and lead are used as raw materials for the shipbuilding industry, which ultimately get mixed with the river water. Consequently, the life cycle of aquatic animals gets disturbed.

In the ship-breaking yards, there is no proper waste disposal system in place. As a result, the waste produced by the industry pollutes the river.

Most of the waste from the age-old paper mill directly gets mixed with the river and causes massive pollution.

The number of vessels has increased in the river. However, there is no STP on the vessels. Consequently, the organic waste is directly released into the river water.

Most of the vessels plying in the river have no fitness certificate. The unfit vessels release oil and various types of heavy matter into the river.

Experts ring alarm bells

Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, noted Karnaphuli researcher Prof Dr Md Edris Ali said: “There are several parameters like Dissolved Oxygen (DO), Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), E. coli and electrical conductivity for measuring the water quality of a river. But all the parameters indicate that Karnaphuli River water is in a sorry state.”

“Chittagong City Corporation collects only 40% of the garbage produced in the city every day. The remaining 60% of garbage gets mixed with the river in some way or the other. Besides, 62  types of toxic chemicals are dumped into the river every day from several hundred small and medium mills and factories built on both banks of the river,” said Prof Edris who teaches in the Chemistry Department at Government Mohsin College.

“The foreign and local vessels pollute the river through releasing heavy metals like zinc, lead and cadmium while cleaning and repairing. Clinker, gypsum and soda ash fall into the river water while unloading them at Chittagong port. The Karnaphuli may turn into another Buriganga if the rampant river pollution goes unchecked,” warned the researcher.

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