Since time immemorial water bodies have been the life-line of human civilisation in thousands of ways. The possession of water, waterways and water bodies has lain at the centre of many wars. For the global tourism industry, water is a main focus for its future development.
This year’s World Tourism Day theme stresses the impact and role of tourism in worldwide water conservation efforts. The theme which is in line with 2013 being the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation, provides an opportunity to highlight the shared responsibility of the tourism sector to wider sustainability objectives. As well as featuring water as an attraction, tourism has a major environmental impact with hotels and golf courses using up water resources, so conservation and preservation or maintenance activities are very important for the tourism industry.
Many countries are famous for water based tourism activities like river and sea cruising, scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing, kayaking, para gliding, nature watching, etc. Dal Lake in Kashmir, rivers and canals in Kerala, Bali in Indonesia, Maldives, Fiji, Hawaii, Gambia, and the Caribbean Islands, are among the best known worldwide water-based tourist destinations.
Bangladesh is a country of rivers and many big water bodies like Tangua Haor and Hakaluki Haor (both are Ramsar Sites), Baikkaar Beel, etc. The country’s major tourist attractions are often water based mainly at our sea-coasts and mangrove forests but also along rivers, haors, baors and wetlands.
These haors are very attractive places for cruising with serene water and green vegetations along the banks. Tourists visiting sites such as Tangua Haor can be mesmerised watching thousands of migratory birds and are able to relish the fresh fishes of the haors.
With its hundreds of serpentine rivers and canals and its mighty rivers Padma, Meghna, and Jamuna, and destinations like Kaptai, Bangladesh has great potential to develop tourism based on water and water bodies.
This is not only in the countryside but within the capital city as well. Dhaka’s lakes like Dhanmondi, Gulshan and Banani Lakes naturally draw many local people in their spare time. But pollution in these lakes is also increasing alarmingly.
Some unscrupulous people throw waste packets and bottles etc. into lakes and water. We should protect all the canals, lakes and water bodies located in and around the capital city Dhaka.
We have already caused irreparable harm to the Burignaga River, which works as the life line for ferrying goods and passengers to and from Dhaka and is the gateway for river cruising down the Meghna. Recently, the government initiated a circular waterway programme which may also be attractive to day-trippers if implemented properly
We all know places like Venice and Amsterdam as cities where waterways have provided the essence and source of their wealth.
Dhaka despite having water tourism potential like that of the Netherlands, does not make proper use of its natural advantages. Instead we are encroaching upon our water bodies and unscrupulously polluting those that remain. We know from the history that there were lots of canals, creeks and rivers in and around the Dhaka but many have been filled. We are destroying our ecological balance and making Dhaka less livable and enjoyable as a city.
We only need look at Amsterdam to see the benefits of maintaining beautiful canals and harbours. Its diverse fleet of around 250 cruise boats carries more than 3 million tourists a year. The municipality strictly maintains its regulations that do not allow many canal side terraces in Amsterdam. At present, the water in the canals of Amsterdam is cleaner than earlier years, whereas we are going down. Three times a week, 14 of the 16 existing water locks around the city close up, so clean water can be pumped in from the big lake Ijsselmeer.
Since 2005, all the houseboats in Amsterdam city are connected to the sewer system. The cleaner water has attracted life over there. About twenty different species of fish and crab live a healthy life below the surface. That bounty attracts water birds like herons, ducks, coots, gulls and recently even cormorants. But, here in Dhaka, we are indifferent to saving even the landmark lakes that city-dwellers enjoy.
For the diversification of tourism and its sustainable development, we must protect our water and water bodies. We must be careful that bottles and trash are not thrown into rivers and water bodies.
There should be a clear understanding of Do’s and Don’ts. Litter-bins and proper signage should be installed in all visible places of tourist sites and natural attractions. We should encourage volunteer organisations to come forward for regular waste collections and encourage recycling projects.
River cruisers should be forbidden from throwing away any waste. All hotels and other tourist facilities that are being established must be developed with Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) facilities. It is especially essential to ensure proper waste management systems for unique features such as St Martins Island
We must work for awareness raising among locals and visiting tourists. All the government departments concerned need to work in a coordinated manner.
We must remember, If all the rivers and water bodies vanish away, then how will the tourism industry survive? We have no other alternative but to protect our water and water bodies.