A PHOTOGRAPH published in New Age on Monday shows a man fishing in the River Turag where biodiversity has been badly affected by pollution by wastes from industries. To be more specific, untreated chemical effluent is channelled into the river, on a regular basis, causing pollution of the river water and surrounding areas. That tonnes of wastes, domestic and industrial, continue to get dumped into rivers and canals in defiance of a High Court ruling betrays the apathy of the authorities concerned towards serving the local dwellers and ensuring their wellbeing. The High Court issued a number of directives for the authorities to immediately stop waste dumping into the rivers and on their banks and to have the riverbanks cleaned up. The river system that surrounds the capital is already reeling under extreme pollution. A few years back, some experts warned that, unless drastic measures were undertaken, the water of some of the rivers bordering the city would be polluted beyond treatment and the water treatment plants would be rendered useless.
Yet, pollution of the rivers continues unabated with untreated human, industrial and clinical waste being discharged into them. The pollution is acute where different industries have mushroomed along the banks of the rivers. While the Environment Conservation Rule 1997 stipulates that every industrial unit should have its own effluent treatment plant, without which it will not get electricity connection, there is hardly any sign of either compliance by the factories or decisive and demonstrative actions by the authorities against non-compliance. Consequently, pollution of this sort is taking its toll on aquatic life, as dissolved oxygen in some rivers is nearly 0mg a litre while aquatic life needs 5mg per litre to sustain. The secretary of Poribesh Bachao Andalan said that a study team for a report had seen none fishing in the River Buriganga. This points to the fact that the Buriganga, often considered the lifeline of Dhaka city, is dying a slow death, so to speak, for a number of reasons, such as, encroachment and indiscriminate dumping of chemical and industrial waste. Regrettably, to protect rivers successive governments have limited their efforts to sporadic drives at most to reclaim encroached land and to remove the toxic sludge from the riverbed, and occasional initiatives to prevent dumping of waste into the river. Once these drives came to their official conclusion, things went back to business as usual with encroachment and dumping of waste back in full swing. What the authorities fail to realise is that protection of rivers and the environment warrants more than such sporadic actions. It requires stringent enforcement of the relevant laws, something that the authorities failed to ensure.
Overall, the government needs to realise that irregular drives such as cleansing the riverbed or demolishing illegal structures on the riverbank will not ensure protection, and for that matter, restoration of the aquatic life-friendly environment of the river. What is needed is a comprehensive strategy backed up by sustained actions.
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