Tuesday, March 22, 2005

80 rivers in death bed...pollution, Indian dams blamed

By Staff Correspondent: The Daily Star, Bangladesh.

Minister for Water Resources Hafiz Uddin Ahmad Bir Bikram yesterday said more than 80 rivers and innumerable water bodies of Bangladesh have already dried up due to pollution and India's decision to construct more dams.

"The present condition of the rivers of Bangladesh are worse compared to other Asian countries," Hafiz Uddin said. He added major rivers like the Padma are nearing extinction while the remaining are unusable due to rapid pollution.

He was speaking at a seminar 'Water for Life: Our Challenges', organised on the occasion of the World Water Day by the NGO, Forum for Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation (NFDWSS), with assistance from the United Nations.

LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, the chief guest in the seminar, said Bangladesh is now facing serious desertification and rapid depletion of the groundwater table due to the construction of dams by India.

In the keynote paper, Prof. Md. Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) spoke about pollution in the Padma and other rivers in the country.

Prof. Rahman said seven hundred cities along the banks of the Ganges dump about 1200 million litres of waste everyday and the downstream community of Bangladesh is forced to deal with this already polluted water.

Bhuiyan said Bangladesh is absolutely dependent on transboundary water sources as about 93 percent water comes from outside the country.

The LGRD minister said a rainwater harvesting system and pond-sand filter can increase the use of surface water to reduce the pressure on groundwater.

State Minister for LGRD and Cooperatives Ziaul Haque Zia said the declining groundwater level, the presence of arsenic and excessive salinity in the coastal belts is posing a threat to the supply of safe drinking water.

Quoting a survey, Prof. Rahman pointed out that a large percentage of both the rural and urban populations in the country are dependent on groundwater. In Dhaka about 85 percent of the water supply comes from groundwater.

He stressed that treating surface water would be cost effective if the level of pollution could be reduced.

Prof. Ainun Nishat, country director, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said a strong monitoring and evaluation management system is required to work in accordance with the water policy. He added that more attention has to be paid to water and sanitation management in the urban areas.

Paul Edwards of Unicef presented another keynote paper on the global perspective of water and sanitation systems. Among others, A H M Abul Quashem, secretary to the LGRD ministry, Morten Giersing, country representative, Unicef, Dr. Duangvadee Sunghkhobol, country representative, WHO and S M A Rashid, executive director, NFDWSS also spoke at the seminar.

Prof. M Feroze Ahmed of Buet chaired the discussion session of the seminar held at IDB Bhaban.

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