Many rivers in Bangladesh are on their deathbeds, thanks to land grabbing and a lack of proper dredging, speakers said at a seminar on Sunday.
Moreover, continuous pollution in various forms has made them more vulnerable, they added at the event titled "Bangabandhu and Riverine Bangladesh" organised by the shipping ministry in Dhaka.
While presenting the keynote, Rear Admiral M Khaled Iqbal, vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University, said Bangladesh had around 25,140 kilometres of river ways in 1972, but the length has now decreased to fewer than 5,968 kilometres.
The sorry state of rivers has been caused by a lack of regular dredging. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, while in charge of the shipping ministry in 1972, stressed the importance of dredging and bought two dredgers. Those machines are still running, he also said.
However, after his departure, the ministry lost its eagerness to keep rivers navigable, which gradually pushed some rivers to a moribund state, Iqbal lamented.
However, the present government is trying to recover the lost rivers, said the vice chancellor.
The shipping ministry has not been able to take effective steps yet after those taken by the Bangabandhu, said Information Minister Hasan Mahmud. He was addressing the event as the chief guest.
"Rivers are an integral part of our country as well as crucial to keep the country's health sound," he added.
"If the rivers dry up, the country will be in poor health because a big part of our economy – including agriculture, fishing, shipping and industries – depends on rivers," he continued.
Global warming is increasing and consequently, polar ice is melting. In future, both the seawater level and salinity may rise too, the minister commented.
"That is why, we need to make plans keeping the dangers in mind," he added.
Shipping Minister Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said, "To move forward, we should work in line with the principles and norms followed by the great leader, Bangabandhu."
Shipping Secretary Mohammad Mezbah Uddin said river dredging is being conducted in full swing across the country for their smooth navigability.
Around 2,200 kilometres out of 10,000 kilometres of dead rivers have already been re-excavated while 526 kilometres of the land of rivers have been recovered from grabbers, he also said.
"We are also working to curb river pollution," the secretary added.