Tuesday, July 17, 2018 | ePaper

Decaying rivers and water crisis

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Contd from page 33 :
The Farakka Dam has prevented fresh water from reaching the Sunderbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. Indo-Bangladesh relations are also strained over the proposed Tipaimukh Dam in the state of Manipur.."
In her article Meherunnessa correctly identified the crux of the problem. It would be a big blow not only to the economic upliftment of Bangladesh but it would also greatly affect the life and living condition of 160 million people of the country due to unilateral action of India diverting water from the Ganges and the Brahmaputra as these rivers have their origin in Himalayan mountains and flow through from India .
The construction of Farakka barrage or dam over the Ganges (The Padma) has already left an adverse effect on the environment of riparian areas of Bangladesh. It is further learnt that India is going to build another dam over the Brahmaputra and works are on-going. This would also lead to the drying up of two main rivers, the Surma and the Kushiyara. Such an action would destroy Bangladesh economically. 'The dam would also have an adverse impact on the environment and bio-diversity of the lower riparian areas of Bangladesh", commented Meherunnessa. In fact, such action of withdrawing water by setting up barrage or dam over international rivers is very unfortunate on the part of India who fought hand in hand with the freedom fighters to liberate Bangladesh against Pakistan.
The hard reality is: our rivers which originate from the Himalayas or from any other mountain and then fall to the sea, can no more give birth to any poet, rather the sea together with rivers close to it, brings forth 'aila' in the southern part of Bangladesh, destroying 30 million souls. As the sea water rises, and salinity affects the farm fields, and the Sunderbans getting destroyed, there appears further fear of 'aila' or 'tsunami'. India explodes bombs in seas for experiment, Korea and China took the sea as a fertile ground for bomb explosion. The sea is tortured and there appears a commotion. And Bangladesh becomes a victim by being a lower riparian country.
The change of climate together with the change in the environment also is caused not by nature herself, it is purely man made. Nature, in self defense or self- guarding, became violent to bring in 'chaoses to the shaping of the earth as cosmos for her protection. She took protective measure to give human mind a lesson but it was merely a cry in the wilderness; her human child pays no heed to it.
The environmentalists in their study assessed that the "country's environmentally vulnerable regions are also faced with the consequences of growing pressure on the environment as a result of rising demand for water, inadequate maintenance of existing embankments and other environmental protection measures, and rapid and often unmanaged urbanization and industrialization." According to them, climate change in Bangladesh is expected to exacerbate many existing vulnerabilities. There may be increasingly frequent and severe floods, cyclones, storm surges and droughts. Sustained and sustainable growth, therefore, will not only be a far cry but also it would be very crucial in adopting long-term efforts to climate change in Bangladesh.'
Following change in climate, Bangladesh will remain highly vulnerable to the threat of floods. Again the coastal zone might face severe type of cyclone and storms together with tidal surge. In the past we noticed, when there is severe flood in India all the gates of the Farakka Barrage are kept open and these affect Bangladesh because most of the rivers which have been dried up or are heavily silted, they cause high flood. Again many embankments in West Bengal are cut open to save people of the affected area but these high flood when enters into Bangladesh it causes severe damage to the life and property of the people. Such things happened in the recent past. At least twelve districts of the south western region were under water and the damage done was severe and unprecedented. This high flood was responsible for severe water logging and presently several Upozila in Khulna and Jessore districts have been experiencing a very severe type of water logging. All these caused heavy migration from rural to urban areas. The poor, however, could not leave the locality, as a result the poverty accelerated."
Water crisis  threatened the age old Cultural Heritage   
Culture, covers the total way of life beginning from birth to death. It includes social, economic, religious and other human issues such as art, literature and music. The absence of water, particularly in rivers, directly affects these issues. In the absence of water there has been a tremendous migration from rural areas to urban areas. This also caused serious environmental problems also. As a result many of such people who lived years in rural areas amongst natural sights and sceneries with rivers and rivulets flowing  alongside and  contributed to art, literature and music, find their lives uncomfortable and not rewarding, left their age-old position in the village, changing their professions also. Fishermen, boatmen, bayati or music performers such as Bauls and other folk- singers, poets and artists also do not feel safe and comfortable because of destruction of natural beauty and absence of river, together with quick urbanization. Further, the villages also suffer from severe poverty. Life is no more easy.  And because of large scale migration, the villages have become den of criminal activities.        
When such is the situation, the Global intervention is necessary. We can only pray now, 'Let good sense prevail' 'May God save human beings from total destruction by human beings.
Dr. Abu Yousuf Abdullah in his recent book, 'SAARC, Will it Survive?', published in 2007 from Dhaka, in the summary of his study said, "The South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation or SAARC was formally inaugurated as an association of seven states in December, 1985. It was initially established for regional co-operation in agriculture, rural development, telecommunication, meteorology, health and population control initiatives. Today it has been expanded to encompass more activities including trade." (Abdullah, AYM. 2011:01). In the Preface of the book, he strongly endorsed his research in the following words:
"Twenty years have elapsed since the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation or SAARC came into being, twelve summits and good number of meetings have been held, but its achievement towards advancement and well being of the people is rather modest. Enlightened conscience may find it difficult to understand why the South Asian countries, constituting more than one fifth of mankind, having cultural affinities, economic complementary and similar problems have failed for long to unite in order to create a better quality of life for their people" (Abdullah, AYM. 2011: Preface).
In fact, it is due to non-cooperation of India as one of the big powers in the region, the purpose of SAARC could not be realized as yet. Although the relation between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, apparently seems good, the future looks bleak. India always plays the role of a big brother, the former Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral in his book writes, "The Gujral doctrine, if I may call it so, states that with neighbors like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, we do not ask for reciprocity but give what we can in good faith". Abdullah comments, "But in reality it has never been applied or discussed at the policy level. Indian bureaucrats were skeptical about the idea. Also once Gujral is out of power, the doctrine went with him." (Abdullah, AYM. 2011: 221-222)
Amartya Sen., the Nobel Laureate, finally defends India. Abdullah quotes Amartya, "India must be the elder, not the big brother with special responsibility. It must not only be the largest country in the heart of South Asia, but also the country with the largest heart." (Abdullah, AYM.Abdullah, 2011:222). Amartya Sen. was born in Manikganj, Bangladesh but now a seasoned Indian civilian. He visited Bangladesh a number of times and had full knowledge about the problems the country had been facing and looked to be unbiased and neutral as an international scholar but he too quite unexpectedly became an outright Indian at last.
With acute shortage of water for a long time, the country Bangladesh, which was known in the past as the Golden Bengal and the people enjoyed life with ease, having fish and curry with no limit (mache bhathe Bangali), the historical proverb is now no more true with the 170 million people of Bangladesh. The six seasons appear in rotation as nature fixed them, to fit in nature's beauty and bounty. The poet Keats once glorified autumn as 'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, conspiring with sun how to load and bless'; the saying, however, appears to have gone with the wind now for Bangladesh, losing all the glamour, radiance and truthfulness. Presently, following change in climate and also in environment, the six seasons have now been acting quite differently. 'Khona'r bochon' the folk wisdom is no more effective in matters relating to social, economic and cultural activities. 'Daak' and 'Khona' the two historic wise man and woman who lived in the country in ancient time and were members of the royal court, are believed to have been proved as false prophets and have become  the most unwise and all their sayings also seemed to be as utterly false.
There is no doubt that Bangladesh is now a country which is economically most vulnerable. Paddy or Jute is no more golden. Rabindra-Nazrul and Jibanananda who once eulogized Bengal or Bangla for her lush green natural beauty, solvency and security in food, had they been living here today, they would have cried for death as did Tennyson's Tithonous to Aurora. Aurora, the Greek goddess of dawn fell in love with Tithonous, a handsome youth who was happy moving on earth, sharing its glory and pangs of suffering as other human beings do, but forgetting all these, greedily he drifted himself towards Aurora, who assured immortality to him by Zeus but not perpetuating his youthful vigor as of Aurora, for reasons known only to her. Bangladesh was likewise enticed by India in her freedom struggle but later on she had forgotten to give her succor after her hard earned victory in the face of death and famine and cared only for herself. The Golden Bengal of Tagore now only awaits a painful death as of Tithonous. What an irony of fate! But Bangladesh though seems to have eaten up the forbidden lotus and looks as if she had lost all her hopes of life; it is not the whole truth. She knows how to survive, even when she faces aila' or 'tsunami'. Such is Bangladesh!     
Problem : Farakka Barrage
India and Pakistan had strained relations for years. East Pakistan by being a part of Pakistan suffered greatly. The problem concerned sharing of the Ganges water when India had set up Farakka Barrage over the Ganges in 1961 and unofficially started diverting water from the  Ganges (The Padma) before the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan, to fulfill her needs. Pakistan protested and held meetings with the Indian Government for several years and final meeting was held in 1970.
During Pakistan period, when Bangladesh as East Pakistan was part of Pakistan India turned a deaf ear and the issue became a bone of contention or conflict over 35 years when several bilateral agreements and talks failed because of non-cooperative and egoistic approach of India. The Water Treaty  was signed by the two countries with mutual agreement and support for  a period of  30 year- water sharing arrangement.
The problem continued when the country was liberated in 1971. Bangladesh faced a very critical moment in regard to water issues. The Farakka Barrage was officially commissioned in 1975.
 The Ganges originated or descended from  India's northern plains,and it forms a boundary of 129 kilometres between India and Bangladesh and flows for 113 km in Bangladesh.The Farakka Barrage is located about  10 kilometres from the border with Bangladesh and  it was officially  commissioned in 1974 and started controlling  the flow of the Ganges, diverting some of the water into a feeder canal linking the Hooghly to keep it full of water and silt free to protect the Kolkata port.
The Ganges, after entering Bangladesh takes the name  as the Padma river until it is joined by the Jamuna river, the largest distributary of the Brahmaputra river which also  descends from Assam and Northeast India to Bangladesh. The Ganges is, however,fed by the Meghna river, the second-largest distributary of the Brahmaputra. All these  finally fall into into the Bay of Bengal. A total of 54 rivers flow into Bangladesh from India.
It should be mentioned here that after liberation of Bangladesh, India and Bangladesh established a Joint River Commission ( JRC) on March 19,1972  for the common interest and sharing water resources, irrigation, floods and cyclone control. In May 1974 a joint declaration was issued to resolve the water-sharing issue before the Farakka Barrage began operation.
However, India continued withdrawing water from the Ganges without listening to the problems of Bangladesh. Later, Bangladesh protested and brought such kind of  India's unilateral action at a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and at the 31st session of the U.N. General Assembly. However  India and Bangladesh agreed to resume dialogue, but nothing happened as India did not listen to Bangladesh at all.
The sharing of the Ganges waters ( the Padma in Bangladesh) between India and Bangladesh over the allocation of the water resources of the Ganges river that flows from the Himalayas, the North India into the south Bangladesh has not been materialized until 12  December 1996..        
In 1996 however an  effort was made to  renew a fresh  bilateral relation between the two  countries and finally an agreement was  made in regard to the water sharing  between India and Bangladesh and signed  a 30-year comprehensive treaty  suggesting equal sharing of the Ganges water.
It was agreed that both the  nations would co-operate in harnessing the water resources and India would have no objections in permitting Bangladesh for  the construction of barrages and irrigation projects in Kushtia and the Gorai-Madhumati river in Bangladesh.
But India violated this agreement willfully and the 30 year treaty totally  failed much to the disappointment of Bangladesh.
 Bangladesh never got her due share of water as agreed upon. India withdrew and diverted water more than what was agreed upon.
The present study speaks of Bangladesh as a lower riparian country, it has been facing an intolerable water crisis following setting up barrage, named as Farakka Barrage and India's   unilateral withdrawal of water from the Ganges which originates in India.
Farakka Barrage has been  built across the Ganges river in India. It  is the key cause of the water crisis inside Bangladesh.
The rivers of Bangladesh are now  dying. The sweet water content inside the rivers has diminished, and there has been a steady rise of salinity.
Bangladesh, heavily depends  on agriculture as the country is mostly agrarian with 85% people still have been  living in villages. The  rivers and the  canals are the best  sources of water beside rainfall which is most irregular now a days because of change in the environment. Under these circumstances, when Bangladesh needs water here rivers and canals have been made dry following non-availability of water from the Ganges  upon which  India built the Farakka Barrage without caring the  international river laws which allow rivers to flow unrestricted and naturally. And at this hour Bangladesh  has no other alternative than to bear the brunt of the destructive effect of the barrage.
Historically, culturally and economically, Bangladesh  has always been rich in the use of water and river multiplicity. Now India has caused severe damage to Bangladesh by diverting water from the Ganges unilaterally and thereby she is responsible for destroying almost all the rivers in Bangladesh. Bangladesh rivers  are  now on the verge of being dead  soon, and many are  already dead.
The Ganges flow has been reduced so much that ritual bathing in certain rivers in Bangladesh has been suspended. A number of markets, which grew up along the river belts, have stopped functioning because of the absence of navigation. No cargo boats are in a position to ply on the rivers. In dry season people cannot move by boat. This has caused severe damage to agriculture and fishery on the one hand and our cultural heritage also. Under such circumstances, it is feared that much of our cultural heritage, based on water issues, might face total annihilation.
The Ganges flow never stopped : Golden Bengal
The fertility of the land and its produce once brought glory to Bangladesh and this happened because of her rivers. And never was the flow of these rivers ever stopped. The country was prosperous before the Aryans invaded Bangladesh. The Aryans, the Turks and the Mughols all helped the country flourish. India as a whole was a country full of natural resources. Trade and commerce caught the attention of the world. India had contact with different countries in the world. The visitors who came to India and Bangladesh praised the land and her people for their strong economy and resource.
Agriculture played a significant part in the life of man from the beginning of civilization. Initially it was a peasant society. No food could be grown without water. Human society grew up beside the rivers, streams and lakes. Livestock also needed water. In the early part of life man created villages as a part of civilization. In places where water was not available man created tanks or ponds for their various uses. Huts were clustered to form a village. These were small wooden houses with thatched roofs. Gradually Man learned how-to make scythes, forks, axes, spades and rakes of iron. Ploughing and harrowing were necessary. Man started tilling of lands for food and also learned how to make clothes for their uses. And water formed the basis of their life and living condition.
Bad impact of Farakka Barrage on the life and living condition of the people
But such a position that once brought fortunes for the people is no more there as the number of rivers now came to around less than three hundred only. This has been caused by death to many live rivers following severe siltation. Earlier there had been around 12 rivers in Kushtia. Except the Ganges these are now dead including the Gorai, the Bhairab,the Kaliganga and Hishna.. Further, the environmental change caused irregulat and scanty rainfall. There appears  severe drought and as  it prolongs, there is acute shortage of food following  crop failure and no food could be procured, and all these give birth  to famine like condition. Water is thus a big factor in the life of all created beings. The marsh and ponds are without water because of absence of rain. Both human and non-human beings such as animals, and plants might face death for want of water.
After the great divide of the sub-continent by the British in 1947, the powerful started dominating over the weak. During the Pakistani regime, East Pakistan, the present Bangladesh, occasionally faced water crisis, particularly in sharing water from the Ganges as India had set up embankments and barrages, the chief, being the Farakka Barrage over the Ganges. India was in a better position because she was on the upper riparian and could use water freely or divert it to the other of her rivers for her interest. There had been protests by the government of Pakistan to India. But India remained indifferent to this crisis of the then East Pakistan. In order to save the crop condition of the country and also for growing required amount of food to serve the teeming millions of the country, the Pakistan Government set up the Ganges Kobadak Project in East Pakistan near the Hardinge Bridge at Bheramata in the district of Kushtia for irrigation in 1954. And no barrage was, however, set up there but there was a plan to set up the Ganges Barrage over the Padma, (known officially as the Ganges) at a suitable time for the safety and security of the people... India as the upper riparian country continued to control the Ganges water since then.  After East Pakistan got her freedom from the oppressive Pakistani rule in a nine month war of liberation and became an independent country as of Bangladesh, it appeared that India, the closest neighbor who fought for Bangladesh in the war of liberation, started withdrawing water unilaterally from the Ganges and also from the other rivers, threatening the lives of 170 million people. Bangladesh as a lower riparian country had a lot of national and international meetings urging India to let the rivers that passed through India flow naturally. But India turned a deaf ear to this problem.  
The Farakka Barrage of India over the Ganges near Maldah and Murshidabad, bordering Bangladesh and also lately the Teesta Barrage caused acute shortage of water for Bangladesh during the dry season and over affluence of water during the wet season. These two barrages of India severely threaten our economy and culture. Once Hindu and Muslim both lived in undivided Bangla together and built the Golden Bengal and still they continue living together here even after India was divided on the basis of the two nation theory. Today, India is not only our neighbor but she is also a friend and helped us earn our freedom, fighting our enemy Pakistan hand in hand, and sharing pains and death equally with Bangladesh. We now pray that India should change her inimical attitude towards Bangladesh and allow Bangladesh to grow as an independent sovereign state. The country is very small with 147,570 km.sq.miles but having around 170 millions of people. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with over three thousand people per sq.mile on average and of late, has been fighting for the graduation from the LDC to a developing country. Despite all hazards, Bangladesh has been trying to fight back poverty and trying desperately towards attaining the status of middle income country. The sharp change in our climate and environment destroyed our six seasons which gave rise to our poets like Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Jibanananda Das, and musicians like Lalon Shah, Hason Raja, Shah Abdul Karim and Bijoy Sarkar and produced innumerable folk and mystic songs and the most fascinating world heritage of the Sunderbans. Once the lush- green country, Bangladesh, has now almost been made barren and a kind of waste land following crisis of water.  The land of six seasons and rivers is no more. No culture with water is available. Most people in the world know Bangladesh as a land of poverty and presently they also know very little of her rich culture. However, today, one must admit that the people in Bangladesh, particularly the poor people, both men and women, work very hard for making the country a self reliant and a strong nation. We need our due share in the distribution of water from the rivers which we own for generations. It is a matter of regret that so long Bangladesh suffered greatly for want of water.       Contd on page 36

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