The International Farakka Committee (IFC) has urged the government and all political parties to give greater importance to river and water issues in their political manifestos because Bangladesh owes its origin to rivers and is dependent on those for survival.
Sayed Tipu Sultan, Secretary General of IFC, New York, made this call at an opinion exchange meeting at the Sagor-Runi Hall of the Dhaka Reporters Unity on Saturday.
The government and all concerned should also prepare to negotiate a new treaty on the Ganges with guarantee and arbitration clauses as the present 30-year Ganges Treaty will end in 2026.
This is an appropriate time to talk on water issues as some parties are in a movement for democracy while others have started campaigning for general elections, he said.
Sayed Tipu Sultan said, we want to have friendly and peaceful relations with our neighbours, but the irony is that all 54 common rivers that flow into Bangladesh, and account for 90 percent of its fresh surface water, have been embanked, depriving the country of their normal flows.
The 30-year Ganges Treaty has failed to bring the agreed quantum of water. The entire dry season flow of the Teesta is being diverted for two decades. A process of desertification has thus started in the Southwestern and the Northern parts of Bangladesh, he added.
Read more: Don’t sign off on Kushiara before Teesta: Farakka Committee
Water salinity has intruded from the seashore to 200 miles deep inland affecting agriculture, fishery, industry and fresh-water vegetation. The existence of the Sundarbans, UNESCO designated heritage site for mankind, has been threatened.
Because of the dams and barrages on the common rivers, Bangladesh is on the one hand deprived of normal rainy season inundation of its floodplains with devastation effects on its riverine ecosystem, and on the other facing flood disasters at intervals that serve severe blows to agriculture, economy and life and livelihood of the people.
Last year the People of the Sylhet region were battered by the worst flood in 20 years while the Teesta basin experienced four waves of flood and riverbank erosion.
The Indo-Bangla Joint Rivers Commission met after nine years last year to sign a MoU on water sharing of the Kushiara, an essentially Bangladeshi river. Earlier withdrawal of water from Bangladesh’s Feni River upstream in India was formalised, but the Teesta treaty remained elusive.
The largest delta in the world, Bangladesh faces threat to its existence as the rivers that created it over the millennia and sustain it have been blocked. Political leaders should create national unity on this question of life and death of the people.
Read more: Ensure flow of common rivers, avert disaster: Farakka Committee
Sayed Tipu Sultan reiterated the IFC demand for implementation of the Teesta Master Plan to save two crore people living in the Bangladesh part of its basin from recurring floods and riverbank erosion.
Among others, Mostafa Kamal Majumder, coordinator, Ataur Rahman Ata, joint secretary of IFC also spoke at the opinion exchange meeting.