The quality of the Buriganga water in Dhaka improved to some extent after the tanneries of Hazaribagh were shut down recently. Tests by Department of Environment (DoE) say so and so do the people of the area.
Eminent poet Nirmalendu Goon recently wrote on his Facebook page, “Now the life of the Buriganga, the mother of Dhaka city, will revive. Even a few days ago, the river water was so stinky that it was impossible for anyone to stand on the banks. But now the water is not so stinky.”
Goon built a house in Kamrangirchar on the banks of the river and named it “Buriganga”.
It’s true. The stench of the Buriganga, the lifeline of Dhaka city, has reduced after the discharging of liquid waste from Hazaribagh tanneries stopped and due to onrush of water from upstream in the rainy season. But experts say that a lot more needs to be done.
The water of the river turned into a flow of liquid waste over the last two decades or so due to discharging of household and industrial waste. But the government initiative to relocate the Hazaribagh tanneries shows a ray of hope as the river might survive eventually if other sources of pollution were stopped.
People living on the Buriganga seemed relieved a little as the quality of the water had improved. At least the stench was not as horrible as it was a few years ago.
Md Jasim Uddin, of Kamrangirchar, said usually the bad smell of the river water reduces every year after the monsoon sets in. But this year, he believed the water quality started improving when discharging of tannery waste stopped in April.
The Department of Environment (DoE) tests found that the level of average dissolved oxygen (DO) in the Buriganga was 0.1 in the first two months of this year. It was 0.00 in the first two months of 2016.
The department also found that the level of BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) had come down to 10.4mg per litre in January and 24.4mg per litre in February this year. It was 11.5mg and 29.1mg in January and February of last year.
In Bangladesh, the level of DO should be above five and BOD below six during the dry season for any aquatic species to survive.
However, the fishermen community living on the Buriganga in Basila is not so hopeful about the revival of the river. Industrial pollution and encroachments are still on, they said.
Hundreds of industries were upstream and dumping waste into the Buriganga.
Environmentalists echoed the same.
Prof Emeritus Ainun Nishat of Brac University, who is a water resource and climate change specialist, said the quality of water of the Buriganga was a lot better than before largely due to the halting of pollution by Hazaribagh tanneries and water flowing into the river from the Brahmaputra.
He said come October or November the water quality would drop significantly as there would be very little water flowing in from the Brahmaputra.
The expert said Hazaribagh tanneries had contributed to about 30 percent of the pollution of the river and upstream factories and Dhaka Wasa were responsible for the rest, with Wasa’s contribution being the largest.
The rivers surrounding Dhaka have become dumping grounds for all kinds of solid, liquid and industrial waste.
“If those industries upstream did not discharge liquid waste into the river, possibly the river could be revived,” said Ratan Kumar Das, a fisherman of Jaula Para in Basila.
The Buriganga is connected to the Turag. The Turag is polluted by dyeing and other industries upstream in Gazipur.
A World Bank study in 2006 showed that the number of industries dumping waste in and around the city was not fewer than 7,000. Only a few hundred industries have set up Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP), but most of them have been left unused.
In 2011, the government took up a project to bring in fresh water from the Jamuna to the Buriganga. The government spent over Tk 100 crore for the project but no progress was visible.
Due to the pollution, fish resources in the river were disappearing, affecting the livelihoods of local fishermen. They could fish in the Buriganga and the Turag only one or two months a year during the monsoon.
During the monsoon, some fish that have been washed away from ponds and wetlands are found in the rivers.
Only 30 fishermen families live in Jaula Para in Basila and most of them are unable to fish round the year. They have to do other work for their livelihood. Some cannot even get work.
This correspondent visited the banks of the Buriganga last month and saw some real estate companies filling up the river in Keraniganj.
Just across the Dhaka Udyan, a few housing companies, including Akashleena, Gram Bangla, Western city, and Silicon city, were seen filling up the river in Boro Bardeshi village of Keraniganj.
Hazir Ali, owner of Alif Enterprise which trades sand, said land development companies have started filling up the river over the last two-three months.
“As the tannery industries are being moved, now the demand for river-view land project will increase here. So, housing companies have become very active,” he said.
In Basila area, factories and warehouses have been built virtually on the Buriganga. Signs of fresh encroachments were also seen at the confluence of Hazaribagh canal and the Buriganga at Basila.