April 27, 2023
DHAKA – Human greed has once again put a river on its deathbed. Back in the 80s, the Atrai river was the lifeblood for locals in at least three upazilas in Pabna. Not only was it a part of fond childhood memories for many, it also played a crucial role in linking Gaznar beel in Pabna’s Sujanagar upazila with the Jamuna River. Its minimum width used to be 80 to 90 feet, and maximum width 190 to 200 feet. Over the years, however, that river has been reduced to what is essentially a canal now, lined on both sides by structures that are threatening to forever alter its topography. Currently, as per a report by this daily, it is just 30 feet wide owing to the unchecked encroachment all throughout its trajectory.
Some locals say it was the construction of a culvert a few decades back that limited the flow of the river, while the local chairman believes it was an irrigation project in the 80s that led to its present abysmal condition. Regardless of what started it, the degradation continues abated. Everyone wants a chunk of the profit. From shops to industrial units to garbage disposal sites, the Atrai is under siege from all sides. If you ask them, owners of most of the structures will claim that they have legal documents signed by relevant government authorities. The question is, how could someone provide paperwork for a piece of land literally sliced off a river?
We understand that in a small country with a huge population, many of whom grapple with poverty, it is difficult to protect natural resources which can be a source of livelihood for many. And with more and more reports of dying rivers bombarding us, it may be hard to feel sympathy for one river regardless of how great or sacred it used to be. But this is also precisely why we must remain alert because, unless drastic measures are taken to reverse the current trend, soon we will have few rivers left, and our children may have no rivers to enrich their childhood memories. Against such a backdrop, we hope that the recent comments by a minister that our rivers are too wide are not taken to heart. Rivers are connected to the existence of Bangladesh. The nation’s agriculture, livelihood, soil fertility, and biodiversity all depend on rivers. If they decay or die, Bangladesh as we know it will do too.
Bangladesh has enough laws, regulations and institutions to protect rivers. The problem is the lack of enforcement of those rules as well as the lack of sincerity and commitment on the part of those in charge of rivers. As a result, pollution and encroachment, often even by those public departments, are taking place unabated. We must stop this. The authorities must act now before it is too late.