BANGLADESH coming to lose 16,400 kilometres of waterways, as the state minister for shipping said in the parliament on Sunday, for negligence and lack of supervision is deplorable. Waterways once spanned 24,000 kilometres across the country once but now they span only 7,600 kilometres, as he said in reply to a question of a ruling Awami League member. There is no denying that negligence of the authorities concerned and the absence of planning and supervision are some of the reasons for the loss of waterways. The minister, as New Age reported on Monday, claimed that the government had increased 1,600 kilometres of river route by dredging rivers and wetlands. The authorities may have pulled down 15,175 illegal structures and reclaimed 566 acres of land along the Buriganga, the Turag, the Balu and the Sitalakhya but this is not enough in reclaiming all the waterways. What are needed are the demarcation of the rivers, construction of walkways, and the planting of trees in reclaimed areas to ensure that the banks are not encroached on again. The authorities also need to work relentlessly to recover the lost waterways and put them to use.
Green campaigners rightly said that the negligence of successive governments has killed the waterways, with wrong policies and massive corruption in the area adding to the woes. Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan’s observation that such an enormous length of waterways appears to have disappeared naturally and the authorities had nothing to do with that is also worth noting. The irony in the statement lends credence to the fact that the situation would never improve unless the attitude of the responsible individuals in the government changed. Conscious citizens are still in the dark as to what happened to the thousands of crores of takas invested in the past years in the name of dredging rivers as a section of officials have not yet come out of the culture of impunity to behave responsibly. The green group blamed corruption and negligence of the government agencies, such as the Bangladesh Water Development Board, the Roads and Highways Department, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority and the Local Government Engineering Department for the loss of the waterways. The rivers, for that matter waterways, were lost because of the wrong policies of successive governments in giving importance to the development of roads at the expense of waterways. Government officials also allowed influential businesses and individuals to kill the rivers.
The government must realise that irregular initiatives such as dredging the rivers or pulling down illegal structures on the riverbank will not help to reclaim the lost waterways. What is needed is a comprehensive strategy backed up by sustained action with a change in the government policy.
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