Most wetlands gone
More than 10,000 acres of wetland, enough to make up 146 Ramna Parks, have been disappearing each year since 1999 owing to illegal earth filling in and around Dhaka city, experts said at a seminar in the city yesterday.
The tendency to encroach on wetland had increased since the government issued the gazette of Detailed Area Planning (DAP) in 2010, they said.
The country lost about four percent of gross domestic production (GDP), equivalent to Tk 44,600 crore, in the last financial year due to pollution and encroachment, said the experts at the seminar on “Saving Rivers and Water Bodies in and around Dhaka City”.
Despite a public outcry and judicial orders, no political parties or governments had taken effective measures to protect rivers and wetland, as the encroachers and polluters had links with political parties, they said at the auditorium of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet).
People must mount pressure on the government to implement judicial orders to save the remaining water bodies in Dhaka city that would otherwise become unliveable soon, they said.
At the daylong seminar, the experts discussed the present state of river pollution, encroachment on wetland and possible solutions to the problem.
Analysing satellite images of five water bodies in Dhaka city, Savar, Gazipur and Narayanganj, KM Ansar Uddin, secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), said about 77 percent of wetland on the city's eastern fringe had already been filled up.
He showed how earth filling had increased after the gazette was issued on October 22, 2010.
In 2006, encroachers began filling a flood flow zone at Baraid in the city's eastern part and filled up an area of 383 acres till February 27, 2010.
They suddenly stepped up the pace of earth filling after the gazette notification had been issued, and they had already filled up a total of 717 acres of wetland, designated as one of the water retention areas in the DAP, till the end of January this year, said Ansar Uddin.
In a presentation, Dr Ishrat Islam, a teacher at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Buet, showed that nearly 10,000 acres of wetland were filled up in Dhaka city and its fringes every year between 1999 and 2010. And around 13,000 acres of wetland had been filled each year between 1989 and 1999.
Dr Mujibur Rahman, professor at the Department of Civil Engineering, Buet, said despite orders from the High Court to save rivers, the government had not taken effective measures to stop river pollution.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said the existing laws were good enough to protect wetland.
Referring to the ongoing pollution and encroachment, Rizwana Hasan said despite judicial orders, the government could not act to stop those only because of a lack of commitment.
Architect Iqbal Habib, joint secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa), alleged that district administrators had helped land grabbers encroach on rivers in and around Dhaka city.
“Around 1,860 acres of land have already been grabbed along the banks of the Shitalakkhya river during the demarcation by the district administration,” he said.
Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury, president of the Association of Buet Alumni, gave the welcome speech and said the government, in general, did not play any effective role in saving rivers.
Eminent educationist Prof Abdullah Abu Sayeed said successive governments had made the looting of the nation's wealth a practice. “And rivers are the easiest target,” he said.
Prof Nazrul Islam, president of the Centre for Urban Studies, said, “If we want to save Dhaka city, we need to take to the streets and compel the government to protect wetland and rivers.”
Mahmudur Rahman Manna, convener of Nagorik Oikko, a citizens' platform, said neither of the two major political parties thought about the environment and rivers, an issue that should be high on their agenda in a country like Bangladesh.
Dr Abdul Matin, general secretary of Bapa, made a brief presentation on the present state of the rivers around Dhaka.
Dr Abu Sayeed Mohammed, president of the Institute of Architects, Bangladesh (IAB) and Shamim Z Bosunia, president of the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh (IEB), moderated two technical sessions of the seminar.
Architect Quazi M Arif was the convener of the seminar jointly organised by the Association of Buet Alumni, Bapa, Bela, IEB, BIP and IAB with the assistance of the Square Group.