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Understand Societal Implications for Wetland Transformation:

Riverine System

Introduction

Bangladesh is called the land of rivers. It is one of the largest networks in the world with a
total number of about 700 rivers including tributaries (Banglapedia, 2012) [1]. A massive
floodplain is gifted by nature with diverse wetland resources covering an area of 70000 to
80000 km2 (Islam, 2010) [2]. This vast area of wetland is productive because of very good
weather and climatic conditions. Enormous water due to monsoon downpour and deposition
of fine allochthonous sediments carried out by numerous rivers containing micro nutrients
make it very fertile. The wetland based biodiversity of the country is very widely distributed
and popular nation over centuries ((Rahman, 1995)[3].

This wetland based natural resources of Bangladesh is declining day by day due to
anthropogenic development to accommodate huge population of about 157,626,605 (BBS,
2011 ) [4] and food production in its fertile floodplain. These development activities altered
the land use pattern, biodiversity and harvesting arrangement in the wetland of Bangladesh
because of ignorance and lack of expertise to identity the importance of biodiversity of
wetlands and its influence to everyone’s daily life.

Approximately 2.1 million hectors of wetland have been lost in the Ganges- Brahmaputra-
Meghna floodplain alone due to flood control, drainage and irrigational activities (Khan et
al., 1994) [5]

Objectives

The objective of this study is to acquire relative knowledge about wetlands changes and to
understand the societal implications for riverine wetland transformation.

Geography of the Study Area

Geographically, Bangladesh is located between 20°34' to 26°38' N latitude and 88°01' to


92°42' E longitude, with an area of 147570 km2. It is bordered by India on the west, north,
and east and also bordered on the east by Myanmar (Burma). About 710km long sandy
coastal area is in the south of Bangladesh, which is sliced up by many rivers and streams into
the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh is comprised of floodplains with some terraces in Modhupur,
Barind tract and tertiary hills in Chittagong and Sylhet. The country mainly lies in the delta of
three mighty rivers namely, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and Meghna.

Riverine Wetland and Biodiversity

The riverine wetland provides shelters for many species of plants and animals. Millions of
people of Bangladesh country depend on these plants and animal species and employment
opportunities of the poverty driven rural people. This resource is suffering badly from the
impact of human intervention together with bank erosion, flood and sedimentation, human
settlements, urbanization, industrialization and unplanned development activities. These
changes of riverine system are changing the natural ecosystems and sustainability of riverine
wetland (Siddiki,et.al, 2012) [6]. Impact due to changing the riverine system can be divided
into two broad categories; the physical Impact and socioeconomic Impact (Siddiki,et.al,
2012) [6]..

The physical Impact

Hydrological sectors

The course of a river changes due to construction of dams, bridges will bring the serious
hydrological problem in the up and downstream. This phenomenon can be easily explained as
the government of Bangladesh is planning to build a barrage in the downstream of the
Ganges River to irrigate in the upstream area. This intervention will definitely affect the
normal flow of this river and riverine ecosystem. Similarly, in order to augment the dry
season flow through the Gorai river in the north west of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Water
Development Board (BWDB) took initiatives to dredge first 30 km from the offtake to
downstream of the Gorai. Diversion of the flow through the Gorai might bring changes to
downstream of the Ganges but major morphological changes take place during peak or onset
of recession stage. Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission is planning to set up its first
nuclear power plant on the left side of the Ganges river. This place is a depressed are where
excess flood water accumulate during monsoon and local people use this land for cultivating
seasonal vegetables. Due to the construction of nuclear power plant many people living based
on this floodplain will have to migrate to other places. This power plant will also use water
from the river for generating electricity and release hot water from the power plant to the
river again. Due to hot water introduction to the river will definitely damage the river
biodiversity. The people dependent on this river will have to move or change their
occupation.

Water Ways Disruption

When a major river course divided into numbers of secondary streams, it will obviously loose
its normal flow. But in the dry season the diversion of the river will affect the draft of the
river and ultimately direction as well as the design of the vessels, boats and other transporting
medium will necessarily be changed. In the northern district of Bangladesh, Bogra is situated
no the bank of Karatoa River. Due to encroachment and construction of buildings, this river
has already lost its course and very little water is flowing during the monsoon. Constructing a
big project like nuclear power plant engulfing a riverine wetland will regulate the
transportation of ships, boats, ferry etc because of security reason. It will effect on the road
networks and more fossil fuel will consume, which ultimately create a panic on national
economy as well as on natural environment.

Drainage System

During monsoon huge amount of rainfall occurs. This large volume of water is normally
accommodated in the rivers of Bangladesh. But unplanned hydraulic structures, shrimp
cultivation firm in south western part of Bangladesh and filling up of lowlands for creating
agricultural land causing flood in the downstream losing lives and damaging human
settlements each year. About 32.57% of the riverine water bodies and 52.58% of lowlands
has been decreased in and around Dhaka city from 1960 to 2008 (Islam, et al, 2010) [2].

Groundwater Scarcity

Siltation of river bed by non-degradable materials, changing river course, decreasing the
width of rivers for constructing buildings and industries, pavement of open space for
development activities and reduction of wetland area prohibit the water to contact with soil.
As a result the infiltration capacity of the soil decreases rapidly in Bangladesh. This is why
the groundwater level is declining day by day. This is very common in the capital of
Bangladesh. The groundwater level in the capital has dropped by six meters in the last seven
years (The Daily Star, Tuesday, October 25, 2011) [7].

Water Logging and Drainage Congestion

Water logging and drainage congestion is a common phenomenon in the major cities of
Bangladesh, especially the capital, Dhaka and industrial city, Chittagong. The encroachment
of wetland due earth filling, city garbage deposition mainly non degradable polythene,
construction of buildings and roads by invading river causing a severe water logging and
drainage congestion during the peak season (JICA, 1987) [8]. For this reason every year
during monsoon due to heavy rainfall, the capital of Bangladesh is experiencing severe water
congestion and flooding.

Destruction of Natural Water Reservoir

Natural water reservoir capacity is changing day by day in Bangladesh due to change of
riverine and lacustrine wetlands. Land filling for urbanization, agricultural land reclamation
and reoccurring floods are reducing the area of natural surface water reservoirs. Poor
agricultural practices in the floodplain are also losing the sediments and depositing in the
river bed and depressed area causing upliftment of the river bed and ultimately the rivers are
losing its water holding capacity.

Environmental Influences

The environmental influences s of the alteration of the riverine wetlands in Bangladesh can
be addressed by the following headings,

Damage of River Flora

Riverine wetland humiliation decreases the loss of many riverine floras. In Bangladesh many
thermal power plants are located near the rivers. These thermal power plants are generating
thousands of liters of hot water. This hot water is being discharging into the rivers. This hot
water can raise more than 8°C of river water causing a serious problem and damages of river
biota.

Destruction of River Fauna


Once upon a time the rivers of Bangladesh were full of fishes and other marine animals. It
was ranked third in Asia with 800 species of fresh water fish (Rahman, 1998) [9]. Due to the
impingement of river for constructing buildings, dam, bridges, ports etc many of the species
of riverine fishes and animals has been eliminated. About 42.50% of the total fish population
in the Ganges river is under vulnerable conditions due to the intervention of this river,
flooding and sedimentation (Rahman, 2012) [10].

Flooding

The development activities for adapting increasing population in Bangladesh have raised the
frequency and magnitude of flooding in Bangladesh. Building dams, bridges, culverts across
the river also increase the sedimentation pattern in the downstream of Bangladesh causing
severe flooding each year. In monsoon about 1500 mm to over 3000 mm rainfalls occur in
the west-central part and in the northeast and southeast of Bangladesh respectively
(Banglapedia, 2012) [1]. Due to invasion of river and other wetlands, this huge amount of
water cannot be placed in the rivers as well as other depressed area and ultimately floods
occur. In August 2014, more than 200,000 buildings has been damages, 10 people has been
died and its cost more than millions of dollars in Bangladesh (http://floodlist.com/). This
frequent flood has a prolonged economic impact and sufferings can trigger mass
displacement. Migration to the urban settings and make the cities overcrowded and the
overcrowded people create social disorder.

Degradation of Water Quality

River water is one of the most important parts of natural resources. This natural resource is
degrading its quality day by day due to the human intervention to achieve the sustainable
development. There is a good relation of environment and sustainable development to the
pure water sources and its accessibility. Like other developing countries, Bangladesh has very
nastiest case situation among all other natural resources. The domestic and industrial wastes
are being unswervingly discarded in the rivers and wetlands. It is a common scenario in
Bangladesh. Wetland transformed to land for various development activities is a worse factor
reducing the length, width and depth of the wetlands and ultimately the degradation of water
quality. The capital of Bangladesh is surrounded by number of rivers and canals. One of the
major rivers is Turag, a bordering and persistent river flowing through the industrial area in
the north of the city. Pollution load index (PLI) of water and sediments of this river ranges
from 1.35 - 3.03, which indicates low to moderate contamination (Banu et al, 2013) [11].

Socioeconomic Impacts

Waterways are the most safe, ecofriendly and safe transporting medium and have a vital role
in the economy of people relating to water transportation. About 26,000 km2, (around 18%)
of the country is gone under water each year in Bangladesh (Wikipedia, 2014). It lasts for
two to five months and water remains most of the perennial rivers (Siddiki,et.al, 2012) [6].
About 1.4 million people rely directly on fisheries related activities (Shah, 2003) [12] but
many of them have changed their occupation due to riverine and other wetland changes and
transformation.

A recent study in a riverine district of Bangladesh showed that 0.06% of total people of this
district were dependent on pisciculture in 1996 but in 2010 this source of income has erased
from the census report. In 1991 agriculture labor was 26.17% but in 2010 it was reduced to
20.03%. This indicates that the riverine and other wetlands transformation and change of this
district has obliged people to give up or change their occupation and diverted to another
occupation (Siddiki,et.al, 2012) [6].

Psychosocial Effects

Loss of lives, properties and disruption of business, breaking of social affair due to wetland
changes, flooding may create psychosocial effects on the victims and their families. These
psychosocial effects can lasts for a longer period of time. For this reason especially children
can suffer a lot.

Conclusion

The wetlands of Bangladesh are degrading its quality and quantity day by day because of
anthropogenic development activities. So far 45% of the total national wetlands have already
been disappeared. This change has also a positive impact on emerging of new agricultural
lands. Thus Bangladesh is now producing more crops and earning lots of foreign currency
than the last decades. At the same time it is generating a severe adverse impact on the natural
environment i.e. lessening or humiliation of natural wetland ecology. The development of
national economy is mainly dependent on the purity and efficiency of land, water, vegetation
and fisheries. The national economy and people’s livelihood will never be sustainable and
continued without taking any planned accomplishment to protect and prevent the quality of
natural resources. Riverine biodiversity should be preserved and managed because it is
closely related to our balanced environment. Due to increase population it is very difficult to
keep the wetlands untouched. Therefore, necessary scientific and development policies must
have taken to identify the most susceptible site of wetland preservation by government and
nongovernment authorities on an important basis.

References

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Bangladesh, Dhaka, 1000 Bangladesh
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Property Resources in Bangladesh
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