What good is the status of 'living entities' if rivers continue to be choked?
There is an all-out war going on against our rivers. We know it, we can see it, but we are doing hardly anything to prevent it, even though our lives and livelihoods both depend on this. One of the most persistent elements of this war is plastic pollution. Even though Bangladesh boasts about being the first country to ban the use of plastic, and the High Court granted rivers the legal status of "living entities" in early 2019, little effort has been made to walk the talk. For example, as per a recent analysis by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), 40 percent of Chattogram city's mismanaged plastic is ending up in the Karnaphuli River, while the Rupsha River in the south-west is taking in 31.7 percent of such waste. This is, sadly, pretty much the story of all our rivers connecting cities.
Industrial waste and irresponsible plastic management have turned rivers like the Buriganga, Meghna, Kirtankhola, Galachipa, Payra, and Bishkhali (among many, many others) into veritable dumping grounds. Of the 646 tonnes of plastic waste produced in Dhaka annually, 12 percent ends up in rivers. Worse still, given that Bangladesh has a deltaic landscape, its waters also have to bear the brunt of plastic waste flown in from neighbouring countries.
Besides reducing navigability and making dredging very difficult, plastic pollution of rivers is harming the environment and the lives of humans and animals (aquatic and otherwise). Those traditionally dependent on rivers are also losing their livelihoods. Aquatic creatures that end up consuming plastic waste are often killed by it too. And most concerningly, as plastic waste disintegrates into microplastics and is consumed by animals, the toxic substances present in them can eventually become absorbed into animal tissue and contaminate the food chain of humans.
The level of pollution and encroachment has reached a point that many rivers across the country have become extinct or are nearing extinction. There have been worrying reports on three rivers in Rajshahi, the Old Khowai in Sylhet's Habiganj, and several others surrounding Thakurgaon in recent times. How can this be the state of a country that was once known as a Land of Rivers? What good is the status of a "living entity" if we do not stop our rivers from being choked to death?
The government's inaction towards identifying and punishing the polluters and encroachers is shocking indeed. It cannot continue any longer given the huge threat posed by tonnes of plastic waste being dumped into rivers every day. A country so dependent on its rivers, for trade, travel, and livelihoods, cannot afford to lose their functionality. The authorities must limit the use of plastic, especially plastic packets and polyethene. And they must ensure better management of plastic waste so that it doesn't end up in our rivers.