Bangladesh waterways shrinking because of Indian rivers

Brahmaputra river. AFP Photo

Bangladesh's waterways have shrunk to one-fourth of its original 24,000kms and the neighbouring country blamed the downstream impact of 54 rivers including the Brahmaputra that flows down from India's Northeast region and Bengal as one of the major reasons. 

"Siltation in the Brahmaputra is a major problem not only in India but we have also been severely affected by it. Silts flowing down through the 54 rivers that we share with the Northeast has blocked channels of many of our rivers. Due to siltation, our waterways has been reduced from 24,000kms to 6,000kms during rainy seasons and 3,800kms during winter. We are trying to reclaim our original waterways to further improve our water transport system not only for us but to help transportation of Indian ships and vessels from the Northeast through Bangladesh, which will be less time consuming and cost-effective too," Manoj Kanti Baral, joint secretary in the ministry of shipping, Bangladesh told DH here recently, on the sideline of a conference on port use agreement between India and Bangladesh.

Sources said the silt problem issue was taken up during Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina's meeting in New Delhi on October 5, in which both the countries signed a standard operating procedure for operationalisation of eight river protocol routes, including on the Brahmaputra. Bangladesh has also allowed access to its Chattagram and Mongla ports for transportation of good from the Northeast to rest of India through Bangladesh, instead of taking the long road route via Siliguri in North Bengal. 

The Brahmaputra, having origin in the Tibet region of China flows through Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India and is called Jamuna as it enters Bangladesh before merging in the Bay of Bengal. Organisations in the Northeast has blamed possible construction activities in China for the increasing silt problem on the Brahmaputra's downstream areas. But according to officials taking part in the consultation, Bangladesh was facing the maximum brunt of the downstream impact of these rivers--be it flood or siltation.

India has started dredging the Brahmaputra and the Barak for navigational purpose and has also agreed to provide 80% funding to Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority to dredge two river stretches--from Siraganj to Daikhowa (274km) in Jamuna and Ashuganj-Jakiganj (295km) in Kushiyara river.  

Another official said Bangladesh has set a target to dredge all 700 rivers in the next 10 to 15 years and allocated 4,000 crore taka (Bangladesh currency) for the same. 

While the officials talked about silts affecting the development of its water transport system and ports, Sabyasachi Dutta of Asian Confluence, a Shillong-based NGO working for the preservation of ecology and rivers blamed destruction of the forest cover and hills for the increasing problem of silt becoming a worry for both the countries. "Silt is due to the way we treat our forests. Dredging is one of the ways to maintain navigational channel but we must do a lot to conserve our forests if we want to protect our rivers," he said.

 

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