BANGLADESH

The impossible task of cleaning the Buriganga river

On January 1, Bangladesh began cleaning one of the dirtiest rivers in the world, the Buriganga. But while the government congratulates itself on this initiative, the local residents continue... to pollute.

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On January 1, Bangladesh began cleaning one of the dirtiest rivers in the world, the Buriganga. But while the government congratulates itself on this initiative, the local residents continue... to pollute.

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, with a population of almost 10 million, is built on the banks of the Buriganga. Since most of the waste is not collected by the city, it ends up in the river water, where a good many factories also discharge their chemical waste. Result: the water is so polluted that no fish can survive there.

At the beginning of January, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) began to clean a 3km stretch of the river. It estimates that 300,000 cubic metres of rubbish need to be removed from the water. Five bulldozers are currently at work to get rid of the three-metre layer of plastic bags and food remains which lines the bottom of the river, while over a hundred people clean the rubbish-strewn banks by hand. The cost of this programme, financed by the environment ministry, comes to over 2.5 million euros.

Meanwhile, a new law should soon encourage Dhaka inhabitants to report those behaving in a way that is disrespectful of the environment.

"I’ve seen people rinse clothes full of dye in the river, at the very spot where the bulldozers are removing tons of rubbish"

Monirul Alam is a photojournalist and blogger in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He lives near the Buriganga river.

This initiative is great, but it has to be better organised. Like in most south-east Asian countries, Bangladeshis live and work beside the river. I've seen people rinse clothes full of dye in the river, at the very spot where the bulldozers are removing tons of rubbish. Just because some NGOs are getting involved doesn't mean that things are going to change. This project will be in vain if the authorities do not try to educate the inhabitants.

The aim of this clean-up is not only to make the water fit for drinking again, but also to ensure that the river can be used by vendors and tourists.

Moreover, the clean-up is done very slowly and most of the waste is dumped on the river bank, which constitutes a sanitary problem, especially on the days when it rains. I sincerely hope that this clean-up will soon be taken more seriously by everybody."

Rubbish in the Buriganga, January 2010. Photo: Monirul Alam

Dhaka inhabitants continue to rinse clothes dye in the river water, January 2010. Photo: Monirul Alam 

A bulldozer removes rubbish near the Buriganga bridge, January 2010. 3,000 tons are to be removed by June 2011 in the region. Photo: Monirul Alam

February 2008, rinsing dye in the Buriganga. Photo: Monirul Alam

December 2009 Photo posted by Osmini Samanidou on Flickr.

December 2009. Photo posted by Osmini Samanidou on Flickr. 

December 2009. Photo posted by Osmini Samanidou on Flickr.