It will be funny if someone from riverine Bangladesh is asked about the World Rivers Day. A very few people know about it as you will not find the day in the widely used online encyclopedia or Wikipedia.
Although the name has been enlisted in the environment-related days in Wikipedia, however, the page has not been created yet.
However, due to various initiatives on rivers and the media coverage, the general people, particularly the majority of the young population know that the "World Rivers Day" is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of September.
The day was introduced in the late eighties at British Columbia province in Canada. More specifically, on the last Sunday of September 1980, Mark Angelo, a young teacher of British Columbia University and river lover, along with some of his students and friends conducted a river clean up drive.
In the following years, the day started being observed in many parts outside British Columbia. Slowly it spread to entire Canada, and then North America, South America, Europe and Australia.
In 2005, the United Nations made it a part of the activity for 'Water for Life Decade' till 2015. By then, Mark Angelo was famous for his river conservation. He became the chair for the day at the United Nations.
In Bangladesh, the World River Day has an informal, but memorable history. A Facebook group named Riverine People was created in 2009. Writer and river researcher Sheikh Rokon was at the heart of the initiative. In the initial stage, the platform decided to work exclusively on rivers.
Sheikh Rokon, in different interviews and articles later, said they were looking for a day for the river.
Once the platform considered observing Water Day as the River Day. The Water Day was easy from many sides; firstly, it was a United Nation's recognised day and observed by government, and was already known. But the subject of the water day can sometimes be not directly linked with the river.
For instance, in 2008, the theme of the Water Day was "Sanitation".
At this point, Sheikh Rokon found that although many countries around the globe observed the "World River Day", there is no example in our neighbouring states. It is mainly observed in the developed world, while Asia and Africa were not informed or about the day till then.
The name of the founder was also found. Sheikh Rokon then dug his email address and wrote to him expressing the willingness of the young riverine group to observe World River Day in Bangladesh.
Mark Angelo was surprised to see the email from a far-away land. He wrote back and encouraged the team and shared motivational speeches. He even said that observing Rivers Day in Bangladesh would also be encouraging for him and the day because through it this part of the world would reach his movement to the opposite part of the earth- from where he lives.
In 2014, Mark Angelo visited Bangladesh and traced Sheikh Rokon. In 2010, Riverine People decided that they will observe World Rivers Day in September and decided to meet with all members.
The members in Dhaka met at Dhaka University campus, while that outside gathered at their university areas. Sheikh Rokon emailed Mark Angelo asking the subject of the river day.
Angelo said there is no central or global subject for the day. It can differ based on country or regions. When asked who will announce the subject for Bangladesh, Angelo said it would be Riverine People. The newly formed platform then decided the theme for the first World Rivers Day in Bangladesh – "Rivers are calling, can we not respond"? Members of the Riverine People, divided into different groups, send joint articles on World Rivers Day in different newspapers.
The articles were published in many newspapers. On the day, Dhaka based members of the group met at Dhaka University, while outside Dhaka, members met at Begum Rokeya University, Rajshahi University, Chittagong University, Bangladesh Agriculture University and private Stamford University to observe the day.
Next year, an article published in a national daily said the government is unaware of the World Rivers Day. Then Water Resources Minister asked the correspondent on why Riverine People did not visit the ministry.
After Riverine People, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan since 2012 is observing the day. Even, different government and private organisations also celebrate the day now. Comparing to other countries, even neighbouring India, the day is celebrated with more formalities in Bangladesh.
For the first few years, it was Riverine People who decided on the theme of the World Rivers Day in Bangladesh. Since 2014, the theme of the day is announced in consultation with nearly 50 organisations working for the river, water and environment. From the same year, 'March for River' is being organised by all environmental organisations.
The march starts at Bahadur Shah Park and ends at Sadarghat. Due to the Covid-19 crisis this year, the 'Online March for River' was held on September 03. Additionally, there will be activities and programmes observed by different government and private organisations and institutions.
Abu Siddique is a freelance journalist.