River Blessings and Threats of Bangladesh

The names of rivers in Bangladesh can be confusing, for the same stream of water has more than one name at various points of its journey in to the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh often seems to have more inland water than land and people, which may not be such a bad thing in a world starved of fresh water. Indeed, paddy rice, fish, and jute, all of which are integral to Bangladesh, depend heavily on the system of rivers. Water transport is also an important sector in the Bangladesh economy. But we still have to ask the question: are the rivers of Bangladesh a blessing or a curse.

Floods and Bangladesh are almost synonymous, at least during the third quarters of many calendar years! Poor agrarian communities who live in huts of mud and straw on the banks of the rivers, are worst affected, and spend lifetimes trying to recover from damages to their livestock and other properties. Accidents in river transport are also regular since the authorities exercise poor controls on the loading of country craft. Scarcely a year goes by without the rivers of Bangladesh causing as much misery, as the bounties they bestow on the people in normal weather.

No research is needed to tame the rivers of Bangladesh, halting the losses they regularly cause, and building on their potential benefits. However, there are two uncontrollable factors from the Bangladesh perspective: international funding for infrastructural investments, and cooperation by India, from whose territory swollen water flow. Bangladesh lacks the resources to effect such changes on its own, and deserves more global encouragement and support. Many economic benefits are lost because the banks of rivers shift so frequently, and because planned drainage of a precious natural asset is simply unavailable. It is sad but true that many flood ravaged areas also suffer from cyclical droughts.

Though the Bangladesh government is helpless when the weather is inclement, or when India allows excess discharges from the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, there is credible action that Dhaka can take to control pollution, to promote judicious use of water resources, and to protect the natural eco-systems in the waters and around the banks. The future well being of the people of Bangladesh depends in large measure on whether such actions start early or not.