The Kirtankhola river that flows through Barishal faces the grim prospect of becoming heavily polluted, locals and experts fear.
Around 6 lakh people living on the west bank of the river are dumping their solid and liquid waste in drains and canals, which then run to the river, officials said.
Vessels plying the river also discharge their waste, polluting the river at a rapid rate.
The banks, especially near the river port and in Rasulpur area, are also littered with garbage.
In December 2018, the DoE examined water samples taken from 12 points in the river and found dissolved oxygen levels to be between 4.5 and 4.8 milligrams per litre, said the department’s Assistant Biochemist Muntasir Rahman, adding that dissolved oxygen should be over 5 milligrams to be safe for aquatic life. Dissolved solid matter levels were found to be 2,100 milligrams/litre, which is also very high, he added.
As the pollution continues unabated, there is no reason to assume that water quality of the river has improved since then, DoE officials said.
Around 24 launches carrying roughly 50,000 people ply the river every day, according to Ajmol Huda Mithu, deputy director of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA).
The vessels dump non-degradable plastic bottles, single-use plastic bags, and many other types of waste in the Kirtankhola, said Suvankar Chakrabarty, secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA).
“We have instructions to clean the launch quickly after anchoring at the port. We usually throw all the garbage, including solid and plastic waste, into the river,” said Anwar Miah, crew member of a Dhaka-Barishal launch owned by Sundarban Navigation Company.
Indiscriminate dumping of waste is not only polluting the river but also disrupting dredging activities, said Rejaul Islam, assistant engineer of the dredging department of BIWTA.
“Due to the excessive presence of plastic and polythene on the river bed we have to replace the blade of dredging machines every hour. Normally, we change the blade every four to five hours,” said Rejaul.
The government should conduct drives against the polluters and launch awareness programmes, said Kajol Ghosh, a cultural activist in Barishal.
Eighty-year-old Manabendra Batabayal, a resident of the Bandar area, said he has not seen such pollution in the Kirtankhola all his life.
Saidur Rahman Rintu, owner of Sundarban Navigation Company, said, “Throwing waste into rivers has now decreased to a great extent… We are trying to prevent it. We have talked with BIWTA about installing waste reservoirs at river ports across the country.”
Launch owners are ready to pay the city corporations for proper waste management, said Saidur, also vice president of the Launch Owners’ Association.
BIWTA Deputy Director Huda said they are constructing waste reservoirs for plastic and solid waste at river ports.
Abdul Halim, director of the Barishal Divisional Office of DoE, said his department would organise a views-exchange programme with the Launch Owners’ Association, and would then conduct mobile courts to fine pollution.
The Barishal City Corporation should look after the canals and rivers in its jurisdiction and hold mobile courts or issue directives against pollution, environmentalists said.
But the city corporation has no plans to save the river from pollution, said an official.