By Mohammad Ponir Hossain
DHAKA (Reuters) – Two decades ago Nurul Islam, 70, earned his living by fishing in the Buriganga river that flows southwest of the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka and was once its lifeline.
Now, with hardly any fish to be found in the ‘dead’ river, thanks to pollution from widespread dumping of industrial and human waste, Islam now sells street food on a small cart nearby to make ends meet.
“Twenty years ago this river water was good. It was full of life,” said Islam, whose family has been living on the bank of the river for generations.
“We used to bathe in the river. There were lots of fish… many of us used to earn a living by catching fish in the river. Now the scenario has changed.”
The Buriganga, or the ‘Old Ganges’, is so polluted that its water appears pitch black, except during the monsoon months, and emits a foul stench through the year.
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About 220 rivers, both small and large, are found in the South Asian nation, which has a population of about 170 million people, including 23 million who live in Dhaka. A large part of this population relies on rivers to earn a living and for transportation.
Earth Day, when millions of people around the globe celebrate and mobilise for environmental protection, brings the devastation in areas like Buriganga into sharper focus.
Bangladesh is the world’s second-biggest garment exporter after China but citizens and environment activists say the booming industry is also a major contributor to the ecological decline of the river.
Every day, untreated sewage from nearby factories and mills is deposited. The riverbed has become shallower and its course has changed due to the plastic and polythene waste that is piled up.
“Those who bathe in this river often suffer from scabies on their skin,” said Siddique Hawlader, 45, a ferryman who lives on his boat on the river.
“Sometimes our eyes itch and burn,” he added.
Bangladesh made it mandatory in 1995 for all industrial units using effluent-treatment plants to keep pollution away from its rivers. But industries often ignore this rule.
While the government makes regular checks to ensure the rules are being followed, it lacks the staff for “round-the-clock” monitoring, said environment official Mohammad Masud Hasan Patwari.
According to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, all textile factories have effluent treatment facilities for wastewater.
“This is mandatory and there is no way to skip the rules as they must ensure compliance with international standards,” said Shahidullah Azim, one of its officials.
Recent research by the River and Delta Research Center found that industrial sewage is the primary culprit for the pollution of river water in the dry season.
“The once-fresh and mighty river Buriganga is now on the verge of dying because of the rampant dumping of industrial and human waste,” said Sharif Jamil of environment group the Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon.
“There is no fish or aquatic life in this river during the dry season. We call it biologically dead.”
(Additional reporting and writing by Ruma Paul, Sudipto Ganuly; editing by Clarence Fernandez.)
Disclaimer: This is an auto-generated report from the Reuters News service. ThePrint is not responsible for the content of this report.