Bangladesh river conservation efforts suffer from coordination failure

Published: 00:00, Nov 17,2020 | Updated: 23:20, Nov 16,2020


THE government’s effort to conserve major rivers in Dhaka coming not to yield the expected outcome due to a lack of coordination between different government agencies is deeply worrying. In a meeting of the committee to execute the master plan for conserving five rivers in and around Dhaka on Sunday, members have expressed serious concern about the lack of coordination leading to repetition of efforts and injudicious spending of public money. The mayors of Dhaka South, Gazipur and Narayanganj city corporations appreciated the recent eviction drives by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, but raised question about the projects it has taken up without consulting city authorities. The inland water transport authority, going beyond their jurisdiction, has initiated riverside beautification and waste management projects. The city authorities, therefore, are concerned that such uncoordinated effort will eventually become an impediment to realising the river conservation master plan taken up by the government in 2019.  While the implementation of the master plan suffers from a lack of coordination, river pollution and encroachment on river land go unabated.

Lack of coordination between different agencies is not the only obstacle to effective river conservation in Dhaka. There are procedural flaws in approving riverside factory establishments as the Department of Environment kept provision for securing trade licence before issuing environmental clearance certificate. Major industrial establishments are still discharging untreated industrial effluent in water bodies in Gazipur, Savar and Narayanganj. The construction of low-height bridges on rivers by the engineering department is an inconvenience for the planned circular waterways in the capital. The chairman of the National River Conservation Commission, also present in the meeting, was critical of all the agencies concerned for their failure to take actions against those involved in the illegal operation of 33 jetties built on the River Buriganga. It is promissory that the committee has become vocal and publicly acknowledged the coordination failure, but it appears to be a delayed acknowledgement as environmentalists have been asking the government to address the coordination failure for decades. The fact that similar projects are approved begs attention to the failed coordination at the level of national development planning that government agencies are, instead of complementing, duplicating each other’s initiatives.

After decades of silence on the issue of river conservation, the government has enacted laws, taken up several multi-year plans to protect the rivers, but all these plans failed to yield the expected result as the plans suffer from implementation failure and the laws remained unenforced. Meanwhile, the rivers are facing the reality of a slow death. The government, under the circumstances, must immediately review all river conservation projects involving the environment department, inland water transport authority and the river commission.

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