Bangladesh is gradually losing its identity as a riverine country. The country used to be crisscrossed by over 1,300 rivers. According to the estimate of private research organization ActionAid, 700 rivers have died in the last 100 years. With the disappearance of rivers, the diverse fish population is being destroyed. As a result, we are also losing a big chunk of our cultural identity.
Existing rivers are on the verge of extinction as well. Most of the rivers completely lose their navigability in the summer season. Due to the formation of sandbeds and sediments, the rivers are not being able to contain the extra surge of water during the rainy season, resulting in floods and waterlogging. Influential people are illegally occupying and filling up rivers, making them lose width and depth. Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) sources said that currently Bangladesh has only 405 surviving rivers. Of them, 102 are located in the southwest, 115 in the northwest, 87 in the northeast, 61 in the north-central, 24 in the southeast, and 16 in the east-hill tracts. Alongside, there are 57 transboundary rivers, 54 of them originating in India and 3 in Myanmar.
The land-to-water ratio on Earth is about 29 percent land to 71 percent water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. However, most of the Earth's water, about 96.5 percent, is saline or frozen, rendering it undrinkable. There is no alternative to fresh drinking water for the survival of living beings in the world. Fresh water is essential for cultivation, fishery, forestation, health, transportation, cultural identity, etc. Compared to many other countries, Bangladesh has been blessed with a good reserve of fresh water. However, the flow of upstream freshwater has decreased quite a lot over the years. From 1975 to 1992, salinity has increased by 1,800 percent during the dry season in Khulna alone, according to ActionAid. Lack of fresh water and increasing salinity is destroying many natural resources in the Sunderbans. As a result, people who depend on the Sunderbans for their livelihood, are being greatly affected.
In Natore, 32 rivers have almost completely been filled up with sediment. Many big boats and steamers used to cross these rivers on a daily basis. Today, the navigibility of these rivers is very low even during the monsoon season. Once well-known rivers of this area such as Boral, Musa Kha, Narod, Atrai, etc., are rapidly losing their length, depth and width. The biodiversity and marine resources are being destroyed. Many local breeds of sweet water fishes have already disappeared. Not only the rivers, but also the canals, beels and other waterbodies linked to these rivers are suffering as well. For example, Chalan Nation in the News RIVERS Beel used to be as great in size as a river. However, of its 1088 square kilometers in length, only 368 square kilometers are left today. Instead of water, crops and paddy are more likely to be seen in these water bodies. Rail lines and highways are being built over filled-up rivers. Alongside, the unplanned construction of bridges, culverts, sluice gates, and dams, etc., coupled with illegal occupation of riverland, is further complicating the problem.
Chairman of the National River Protection Commission, Ataharul Islam, said, “Before the liberation war, the total length of the river courses in what is now Bangladesh used to be approximately 24,140 kilometers. Today, the estimate stands at only 10,000 kilometers. Only 5,000-6,000 kilometers of river ways are available in the monsoon and it drops to 4,000-5,000 kilometers in the dry season. These estimates clearly indicate that many of the riverways are already dead.” However, he talked about some positive initiatives as well. “Recently, the government has taken initiatives to dredge dried out rivers and reclaim illegally occupied areas in and around rivers. However, there are no accurate and updated statistics about the number of rivers surviving, dead, or struggling ones. The river commission is already working to get this information. Hopefully, we shall get relevant data and information soon,” he added.
Country director of ActionAid Bangladesh, Farah Kabir, said, “The people of Bangladesh are still not conscious about their water and river rights. Their participation could not be ensured in any movement about rivers.”
Many rivers and canals used to flow within Chalanbil in Natore. Of them, Korotoa, Fuljhuri, Atrai, Boral, Gur, Hijali, Tulshi, Ichamati, Nandakuja, Gumani, Chouchua, Bhadai, Chiknai, Banganga, Kumardanga, Mora Atrai, Mora Korotoa and Garadaha are the most prominent ones. Once the mighty Padma, it is now struggling for its existence. Most of its branches/tributaries are dead today. Many of its branches, including Baral, Mora Baral , Narada, Musa Kha, Ichamoti, Dhalai, Hurasagar, Chikanai, Gorai, Mathabhanga, Bhairab, Nabaganga, Chitra, Beta Kalikumar, Harihar, Kaliganga, Kajol, Hisana, Sagarakhali, Chandana, Kopotaksha, Belabot, etc., are either dead, or on the verge of dying.
Many branches of Teesta, Korotoa, Dharala, and Atrai rivers such as Punarbhaba, Tangon, Chawai, Nagar, Chilfa, Tepa, Dahuk, Velsha, Patharaj, Tiranai, Sinuya, and Haturi are facing the same condition. Not only the rivers, but also the canals, beels and other water bodies linked to these rivers are suffering as well. Chalan Beel, Beel Halati, Hilana, Mohanogor, Bilabhatiya, Utharaila, Bhibira Beel, Katara, Mandar Beel, Bilbhatia, Uthrail, Khibir Beel, Chatra, Mandar beel, Beelkumli, Pati Khola, Angara, Changa, Dikmi, Parul, Sati, Malasi, Choni, Baghanadi, Piyarul, Meerat, Raktadaha, Kumaridaha, Khukasi , Jabayera, Badh Baria, etc., are drying up fast. Some of the most prominent rivers of Bogra district such as Nagor Nod, Korotoa, and Gangnoi dry up completely at the end of the Bengali month of Chaitra every year. By the time Baishakh arrives, these rivers turn into Boro fields. The transboundary river Korotoa’s water has been withdrawn at the mouth near Panchagar on the Indian side. The water development board has created a mini Farakka dam at the Katakhali point of Gobindaganj via Gaibanda and Thakurgaon to withdraw water from the river Bangali. As a result, the Bangali river has entered Khulna City mostly as a dead canal. In east Bogra, rivers like Manash, Bangali, Hura Shagar and Fuljor have been reduced to sandbeds for most of the year. Many prominent rivers in Rangpur like Teesta, Mohananda, Atrai, Punarbhaba and Karatoa become so dry in the summer that children use them as playgrounds. The small branches and distributary rivers have also almost entirely vanished.
Sylhet had hundreds of rivers, most of which were transboundary.
All of these rivers meet at the Surma- Kushiara confluence. All of these rivers, especially Surma, Kushiara, Khowai, Manu, stand, Darain, Kalni, Piyain, Shari, Goyain, Sonai, Dhalai, Juri, and Sutang, are struggling with declining navigability. The fury of the Jamuna, Tulshiganga and other rivers has been reduced to oral tradition only. The dried up rivers are now being used for the cultivation of rice, sweet potato, and various other crops. After originating in India, Choto Jamuna, Tulshiganga, Chiri, and Harabati enter Bangladesh through various border areas. These rivers used to have a steady supply of water round the year. The locals used the waterways more than the highways and streets for transportation and communication. However, due to heavy siltation, the riverbeds are filling up. As a result, the water level rises disproportionately even after a small rain shower.
Six rivers in Magura district have completely dried up. Filled rivers are being used for agricultural cultivation. Some of the most important rivers in this area are Noboganga, Kumar, Fotki, Chitra, Gorai, and Madhumati. The river Chitra used to flow through Shalikha upazila and Bagharpara upazila towards Narail. This river which used to connect so many areas and districts has dried up completely. A mile-long char has formed in Kumar. The nearby localities used to have an ample supply of water. But today, the residents of these areas are struggling with severe water shortage. Since the riverbeds have been filled up by sedimentation, the rivers are losing their ability to contain rain water. During monsoon, the rivers overflow and cause massive floods in the surrounding areas. Simultaneously, river erosion is occurring rapidly as well. Along with the river Dhansiri, immortalized by poet Jibananada Das, other influential rivers such as Pona and Jangalia are gradually losing their luster. In Gangachara Upazila of Rangpur, the river Teesta has been reduced to a playground for children due to lack of water. The river is so shallow at places that people can easily walk across itand the river Ichamoti is choking on silt and sediment.