- The first-ever Knowledge Forum on the Meghna River basin starts
- The basin supports the livelihoods of almost 50 million people in Bangladesh and India
- Shareholders and experts said poor infrastructure, travel difficulties, a lack of river dredging and a legal barrier are the main reasons behind not using the waterways for trade purposes
Trade potentials on river routes in the Meghna basin are still mostly unutilised, said stakeholders and experts at a virtual symposium on Wednesday.
They said poor infrastructure, travel difficulties, a lack of river dredging and a legal barrier are the main reasons behind not using the waterways for trade purposes.
The experts shared their views at a session, entitled "Engaging the private sector for inclusive cross border navigation and trade in the Meghna River basin", on the second day of the three-day Meghna Knowledge Forum (MKF) 2021.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asia and its partners organised the event, aiming to provide a learning exchange platform on the river and inclusive water governance issues in the Meghna basin shared by Bangladesh and India.
"Now, the formal trade volume is very poor on the waterways between Bangladesh and northeast India. The legal opportunity of business using small boats with these states can boost revenue generation," said Syed Monowar Hussain, former director of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority.
"Over a 85% area, Tripura is connected with Bangladesh. In the past, there was informal trade, which is now banned because of fencing," said ML Debnath, president of Tripura Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"We cannot utilise the river route for poor infrastructure. The use of waterways can decrease product price."
The Meghna River basin is located in the north-eastern part of India and Bangladesh, and it hosts a remarkably rich cultural and natural heritage.
57% of the total area of 82,000 km2 basin is located in India and 43% is in Bangladesh, according to available data provided in the event.
In Bangladesh, the Meghna Basin includes the uplands of Sylhet, the Chattogram hills in the south-east; and the Madhupur tract on the west, which marks the boundary between the Brahmaputra and Meghna basins.
The basin has a very high value in terms of ecosystem services, environment and economy as well.
"Before the development of railway and road transport connectivity, the waterway was the route for trade between Bangladesh and northeast India. At present, an in-depth study of the routes and what types of vessels would be appropriate to boost business is needed. Otherwise, traders would not be interested," said Sujit Chakraborty, president of Centre for Aquatic Research and Environment and bureau chief of the Indo-Asian News Services.
He said tourism would flourish if waterways connectivity could be developed between Bangladesh, Tripura and other north-east Indian states.
Dr Selima Ahmad, president of Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "We need to do dredging to increase the navigability of the river as it is a barrier to discovering the prospects of waterways trade. Besides, access to travels has to be eased for the same purpose."
Bipul Chaterjee, executive director at CUTS International, India, said, "A small volume of trade among local communities of both countries should be prioritised on the waterways. However, people are not aware of the exchange of products which will be of mutual benefit. An awareness of local trade will increase people-to-people connectivity."
The session was focused on two transboundary navigation routes – Karimganj-Ashuganj and Sonamura-Daudkandi – in promoting transboundary trade and poverty reduction in the Meghna River basin.
The three-day MKF discussions are structured around the following three themes – geophysical and ecological diversity of the Meghna basin; cultural and socioeconomics of the Meghna basin; and inclusive governance of the Meghna basin.
Altogether three sessions were held on Wednesday. The Business Standard is the media partner of the event.
Since 2018, IUCN, with the support of Oxfam TROSA Programme funded by SIDA, has been facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues and joint research in the Meghna River basin with the aim of strengthening the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources in the basin through inclusive and basin-wide governance.