The history of civilisation is the history of rivers. The remarkable and most influential civilisations in human history like Sindh, Iraqi, Chinese, European, and Egyptian were built on the banks of the Sindh, Euphrates, Yangtze, Danube, and Nile rivers.
The culture, traditions, and values of the denizens of any civilisation and society fundamentally used to depend on the direct effects of the respective rivers. Along with this process, social practice, belief, livelihoods, the agricultural system, urbanisation, and industrialisation of the countries have been developed, based on the rivers, all over the world.
Being located in the Indian sub-continent, Bangladesh is branded as a riverine country. Most of the rivers of Bangladesh originate from the Himalayan valleys traversing India, Nepal, and Bhutan and have merged into the Bay of Bengal, flowing through the country. The thousands of years of culture of the country’s area owe it to the surrounding rivers.
Bangladesh is also recognised as the “sap of Asia” to some extent, as it has many trans-boundary rivers flowing through the country. Livelihoods have always benefitted from the curving rivers and the urbanisation of Bangladesh has also been river-centric.
Major cities like Dhaka, Rajshahi, Barisal, Sylhet, Khulna, and Narayanganj have been built taking advantage of the rivers around them.
Though many numbers of rivers had existed before, now we have only about a hundred rivers still running.
The rivers are degrading due to many reasons. Many rivers in the northern and south-western part of Bangladesh have already died, and some have seen their water flow reduced considerably. There have been many reasons as to why our rivers are so threatened.
Rivers from other parts of the country have lost the navigability, which is responsible for flood and river erosion, as well as becoming threat to livelihoods.
If this situation continues, then in the near future, it will be difficult for the country people to get the advantages of the rivers.
To protect the existing rivers and to ensure the sustainability of the water from the rivers, some measurements need to be taken as soon as possible.
People should be made aware of the negative consequences of destroying rivers and the kinds of activities which are harmful to them.
Finally, Bangladesh needs to be prepared to win “river diplomacy.” There are many trans-boundary rivers in Bangladesh, and most of the rivers enter through India. India utilises its geographical advantages and the Indian River Commission is building dams by the side of almost every river.
If the country wins in ‘river diplomacy,’ it will be possible to protect the rivers and water bodies. We must do everything to protect the rivers, which are vital to our life, nature, livelihood, and culture
This is having adverse effects on the water management system of Bangladesh. The water flow, supply, and management of any country depends on the trans-boundary rivers management system. In this case, Bangladesh has not been able to bring fruitful results in the last few decades.
The water flow, supply, and management system depends on four river systems: The Ganges, Jamuna, Borak-Meghna, and Karnaphuli. Water is being withdrawn from the very beginning, starting from the Himalayan valleys, resulting in Bangladesh always receiving a small amount of water from the trans-boundary rivers.
The water flow is not only needed, but also keeps the rivers alive. But the amount of water in the rivers is reducing day by day. As such, it is great that the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) has been formed in our country.
This commission has a big role to play in protecting our rivers and in conducting negotiations with other countries.
Many of the rivers have been badly encroached, and the government is planning and implementing many laws against this encroachment of rivers.
They are working with the environmental activists in this regard, which is commendable. These hands should be dealt strongly and assertively.
Finally, if the country wins in “river diplomacy,” then it will be possible to protect the rivers and water bodies. We must do everything to protect the rivers, which are vital to our life, nature, livelihood, and culture.
Md Ashik Sarder is a development practitioner and researcher. He is currently working at UNDP, Bangladesh.