'Pollution-free rivers can save Dhaka city'

Toriqul Islam | Update:

roundtableDiscussants at a roundtable on Saturday said only pollution free waterways, especially rivers, in and around the Dhaka city can save it.

The discussion on 'River Restoration Issues of Waterways around Dhaka City' was jointly organised by BUET Alumni and Prothom Alo at the Prothom Alo office in Dhaka on Saturday.

Moderating the roundtable, professor Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, a leading civil engineer and researcher, said the Dhaka city is blessed with many rivers.

"We believe we can revive the waterways through our sincere efforts and that will change the city," he added.

He gave an example of the Thames that once that caused cholera for the Londoners. It has been possible to make the river the home for many species again through the strong will.

Professor MA Matin from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) made a presentation at the discussion where he said understanding the definition of river restoration is of utmost importance.

First of all, the definition of river restoration must be clear to the authorities concerned as it has been defined in various ways by the government bodies.

MA Matin also said, "River restoration refers to a large variety of ecological, physical, spatial and management measures and practices.  These are aimed at restoring the natural state and functioning of the river system in support of biodiversity, recreation, flood management and landscape development and so on."

"If we really want to save the city, rivers, canals and all the waterways in and around the city must be revived."  

In the presentation, he mentioned names of the rivers--Turag, Balu and Sitalakkhya and Tongi canal and other canals-- Abdullahpur, Diabari canal, Digun canal, Kollaynpur canal, Dhanmodi Lake, Gobindapur canal, Bauper canal, Badda canal, Rampura canal, Badda canal, Gulshan-Banani Lake and Begunbari -- that must be restored for the sake of a liveable city.

M A Matin also said, "As much as 88 million tonnes of solid waste and 7.7 million litres of liquid waste from tanneries are annually being dumped into the rivers around Dhaka while textile industries discharge as much as 56 million tonnes of waste and 0.5 million tonnes of sludge while 7000 tonnes of solid wastes from other sources are also being thrown into the waterways every day," he added.

"If we can give our full effort to stop pollution of the rivers completely around Dhaka city, one or two monsoon floods may be enough to revive clean water in rivers."

Professor M A Matin recommended flood management and drainage construction, construction and maintenance of sewerage and storm water facilities, riverside and waterfront structures, riverside roadway construction and riverside park construction, to revive the waterways.

"River regime (width and depth) should be identified, designed, demarcated, and banks are to be maintained with appropriate protection and engineering measures (hard or soft, or both if required) and effort should be given to restore rivers in an integrated and coordinated manner."

Professor of the civil engineering department, BUET, Md Mujibur Rahman made another presentation titled 'Abatement of Rivers around Dhaka City: Immediate Measures'.

He mentioned two big challenges while working for abatement of pollution of the city waterways. These are, pollution of the peripheral river systems from indiscriminate discharge of untreated industrial and domestic sewage, and unabated encroachment and filling up of the canals, lakes, wetlands within the city and rivers around the city.

Professor Md Mujibur Rahman categorised sources of pollution into two--industrial waste that lacks absence of waste treatment of waste, and unplanned growth of industries and domestic sewage that also lack dysfunctional sewerage management.

Weak enforcement of environmental laws and agricultural toxic chemicals are leaving the rivers, canals, lakes and wetlands extremely polluted, he added

Professor Md Mujibur Rahman also said the polluted waterways are threatening aquatic lives, human health, economy, ecosystem, drinking water supply system, and drainage management and navigation system of the city.

The professor suggested some 'immediate action plans' to improve water quality of Dhaka's peripheral rivers.

According to his action plans, diversion sewer lines along Buriganga north to divert the industrial and domestic sewage to a waste treatment plant must be built rather than letting it flow into the river directly.

Improving sanitation systems by deploying “Fecal Sludge Management” (FSM) approach and imposing ban on solid waste disposal into canals and water bodies, he added.

Newly appointed RAJUK chairman Bazlul Karim Chowdhury told the discussion that Dhaka can be a riverine city and RAJUK sewerage system can change the river system.

"If we use land following proper rules, the city can be saved," he said.  "The problem is there are a number of laws, but these are not being implemented."

He also observed that there is a lack of coordination between the government bodies.

Chief executive of BELA, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, said waterways should be treated as a legal entity.

"If we really want to save our waterways, we should change our attitude. People must be informed about pollution because it will empower them against the polluters," she added.

She urged the RAJUK chairman, who was present at the discussion, to be more realistic and make ensure governance is in place.

Iqbal Habib, member secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said the WASA lacks holistic plan in this regard when a sustainable water treatment plant can save the city.

He presented an ambitious plan that can make Dhaka city liveable again.

"Dhaka was crisscrossed with waterways. We can revive that Dhaka again. Thus, we need to dream and we have that audacity."

He presented some Hatijheel-like projects that can be built in Narai canal, Balu river, re-establishing connection between Hatijheel lake and Dhanmondi and Baburail canal in Narayanganj.

"We can convert the areas into even better places than Hatijheel."

Sultan Ahmed, director of environment department, environment ministry, said there is existing debate among the government bodies over the issues.

"I think we should leave the debate for the sake of a better city."

As there is lack of monitoring, an online monitoring system can be introduced to address the problem.

He also emphasised the proper use of monsoon water as Dhaka city is blessed with a good amount of rain every year.

Asked about the delay in action, an additional commissioner told the discussion, "As we don't have all CS maps available, we can't go into action hurriedly."

"We are working with city corporations and restoring the rivers their rights."

Professor Ishrat Islam of the department of urban and regional planning, BUET, said, "First of all, we should move fast to fix the numbers of canals through a government gazette."

She urged the DAP planners to add the numbers of the canals into their planning, too.

For domestic sewage, RAJUK should make sure that when a property building is being made, it has a waste management plant, professor Isrhat Islam said.

She recommended a 'water body conservation council' that can work as a 'supreme authority' for preserving the waterways defying bureaucratic procrastination.

Khandakar Monzur Morshed, vice president of Bangladesh Engineers Institute (IEB), said, "What we are talking today about something that has been discussed many times in the past and we have put that to the government, but we don't know where it finally goes."

"We should include the people representatives with this plan."

Akhtar Mahmud, general secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planning, said, "We have seen positive attitudes from the people towards waterways."

Examples of Stockholm, Sweden, can be inspirational for Dhaka city as the city dwellers were provided clean water from their canals.

"We should remember that we have more than 5,000 acres of land reserved for water bodies where we can construct many Hatijheel-like lakes," he added.

Kazi M Arif, general secretary of the IAB, said professional people and teachers, who are mainly involved with the projects, must be sensitised about the consequences of their acts.

They must be accountable to the public for their actions.

Satyaprasad Majumdar, director of Welfare Division of BUET Alumni, said, "If we fail to involve politicians in the activities, all initiatives will go in vain."

Mahtab Uddin, secretary of BUET Alumni, said canals in the Dhaka city must be named in a government gazette.

"And we should protect rivers and canals in Dhaka city for sake of our own future," he added.

Sadiqul Islam Bhuiyan, secretary general of BUET Alumni, said, "We all know the causes and remedies behind the river pollution, we now need a long-term and comprehensive plan."

"If we can demonstrate the Dhaka projects successfully, it will be a good example for other cities in the country."

Prothom Alo's associate editor Abdul Qayyum welcomed the guests to the roundtable discussion.

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