The Meghna river, which is supposed to supply 50 crore litres of water to Dhaka city every day, has become polluted to such an extent that it should be declared an ecologically critical area (ECA).
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has said this in a report titled “Protecting the Meghna river: A sustainable water resource for Dhaka” published from its headquarters in Manila on August 21.
The ADB prepared the report by conducting a study on The Dhaka Environmentally Sustainable Water Supply Project. The bank has given a loan of $500 million for the project.
The report says the water at Bishnondi and Haria points in Narayanganj, from where water is to be extracted for supplying the capital city, is extremely polluted.
The water of the river is turning untreatable due to the presence of 87 types of harmful chemicals, textile dye and heavy metals, including 45 types of insecticides.
Cancer causing (carcinogenic substance) chromium has also been found in the water.
River researcher Muhammad Azaz said there were harmful insecticides like diazinon, malathion and carbofuran in the water of the river, which are banned in Europe and America.
The ADB says to treat the water through a treatment plant for making it drinkable, an additional $175.2 million will be required per year, which is equivalent to Tk 1,480 crore.
It will increase the cost of Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA), threatening the future of the project.
Around 3.38 lakh cubic metres of liquid waste, released by about 38 lakh people living on 75 kilometres of area on the East side of the river, are mixing into the water every day, the report says.
The level of pollution is on the rise as about 2,000 factories on the West side of the Meghna are also dumping liquid waste into the river.
The quality of the water will continue to deteriorate, due to different development activities launched by the government and private entities.
Already a number of residential projects and industries are being set up in Meghna Ghat area. The government has a plan to set up a number of economic zones there in the future, says the report.
Different firms have already purchased land at Haria intake point for setting up industries.
Development of 150 acres of land for setting up industries, including dry dock, packaging and readymade garments (RMG) factories has been completed so far.
The work of setting up the head office of Bangladesh Applied Nutrition Institute in Bishnondi ferry ghat area is going on.
The quality of the water in the river will get far worse after full implementation of the projects, the report mentions.
The high bio-diversity in Char Bhasani, Char Dighaldi, Nurnertek, Kalapaharia and Nazarpur areas near the bank of the Meghna will be threatened if these areas are not declared ecologically critical areas, says the ADB report.
There are endangered animals like the South Asian river dolphin and the Indian roofed turtle and a minimum of 30 species of fish in the area, The IUCN Red List categorizes them as threatened and vulnerable.
About the Project
The Dhaka Environmentally Sustainable Water Supply Project was taken in 2013 aiming to collect 50 crore litres of water from Meghna River every day for supplying it to Dhaka.
The project deadline ended in June this year, but only 14 percent of the project has been completed so far.
After Tk735 crore against the total allocation of Tk 5,248 crore was spent, a proposal for extending the tenure of the project till June 2022 was sent to the Planning Commission, said Dhaka WASA Superintending Engineer Md Mahmudul Islam, also the project director.
Mahmudul said that after the revision, the project cost would increase to around Tk 7,000 crore.
Every year $182.93 million economic activities take place centering the Meghna, one of the largest rivers in Bangladesh.
What to do?
Mahmudul told The Business Standard that Dhaka WASA and the local government were concerned about the quality of the water in Meghna River.
“If the pollution level of the rivers adjacent to Dhaka city cannot be reduced, the quality of Meghna’s water cannot be improved,” said the project director.
“Recently the Department of Environment (DoE) was urged to give emphasis on preventing the pollution of the Meghna alongside that of the Turag, Shitalakkhya, Buriganga and Balu,” he added.
According to the ADB, by reducing use of water, electricity and natural gas through the use of improved technology in the factories, the pollution can be cut and earnings can be increased as well.
Referring to the report on the outcome of reform activities in three textile industries and a paper mill financed by the International Finance Corporation, the ADB said by spending $1.1 million in those four factories, $2.1 million was saved in the first year.
It means the profit was 92 percent higher than the investment in the first year.
Under the circumstances, the ADB report emphasized every day monitoring to review different aspects, including electrical conductivity, dissolved oxygen and water flow from Bhairab to Meghna Bridge.
The ADB has provided a $385,833 monitoring plan and already given $7,407 for monitoring at the two intake points, $102,560 for an early warning system and $148,286 for manpower.
While talking to The Business Standard on the issue, Ejaz opined that only declaring ECA cannot prevent pollution of the Meghna. He suggested taking scientific steps, including setting up Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs), to manage liquid waste from the factories.
“The High Court directives to save the rivers adjacent to Dhaka were not being followed,” he said.