Endangered Rivers in Bangladesh

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Bangladesh is a land of rivers. The health, wealth and happiness of Bangladesh depend on her rivers. Most of the rivers of our country originated from the Himalayas and fall into the Bay of Bengal. The importance of these rivers in our ecology, economy, transportation and our day-to-day life is very crucial. The prosperity of our agriculture depends on the rivers as they made the soil fertile and our main crops grow in plenty here. Most of the cities, towns, industries, hats, bazaars, trade-centers are on the bank of rivers. Some of the rivers are source of energy. In spite of the little harm, the rivers are useful to us in many ways. In a word, they are the source of our wealth, health and happiness. But it is a matter of great regret that these rivers are in danger. Due to a lot of reasons these rivers are going to die gradually. Some of the rivers have already died. Some of these reasons are directly or indirectly related to mankind and others are due to natural process. These rivers cannot find a natural way to flow and as a result they are dying. For these endangerment factors our ecosystem and environment have been worsening day by day. Many natural disasters, health hazards are being as common phenomena. In a word, to protect our country these rivers should be protected.

Geographical Features of Rivers in Bangladesh:

Rivers are the most important geographical features in Bangladesh, and it is the rivers that created the vast alluvial delta. It’s been known that the out flow of water from Bangladesh is the third highest in the world, after the Amazon and the Congo systems. The Padma, Jamuna and the lower Meghna are the widest rivers, with the latter expanding to around eight kilometers across in the wet season, and even more during the floods.

Chart 1: Main Features of Major Rivers of Bangladesh

The mighty river Ganges, which begins in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, enters Bangladesh from the North West through Rajshahi Division. It joins the Brahmaputra in the centre of the country, North West of the capital, Dhaka. The Ganges changes its name to Padma as it passes into Bangladesh, while the main flow of Brahmaputra is known as Jamuna. It is these great rivers and their countless tributaries that have the most apparent effect on the landform – constant erosion and flooding over the alluvial plains change the course of rivers, landscape and agriculture. The Jamuna alone is estimated to carry down 900 million tons of silt each year.

Fig 1: Main Rivers of Bangladesh

Endangered Rivers of Bangladesh:

Thirteen rivers have been lost from Bangladesh’s topography in the past several decades while seven more are on the verge of their death as experts said reckless human interventions were killing the streams physically as well as chemically and biologically.

According to the list the Narasundra, Bibiana, Shakha Barak, Palang, Bhubeneswar, Burinadi, Bamni, Hamkura, Harihar, Chitra, Musa Khan, Hishna and the Shakha Baral physically died gradually in the past decades. With their dwindling flow the rivers like the Buriganga, Karotoa, Ichhamati, Bhairab, Kaliganga, Kumar, Chitra, Gorai, Madhumati and Bhadra are gradually embracing death, changing the topography of deltaic Bangladesh, criss-crossed by 230 rivers, 57 of them international ones. Experts blamed the reduced flow from the cross-border upstream regions, ill-planned or reckless interventions on the streams, encroachments and snapped links with floodplains for the physical death of the rivers.

Over two dozen rivers in the south-western part of the country have already died from progressively reduced flow of the Padma in Bangladesh. This situation has arisen because of prolonged diversion of water unilaterally by India since the construction of the Farrakka barrage. There are two major tributaries of the Padma – the Gorai and Madhumati rivers. The once mighty tributaries of the Padma presently have a thin canal-like existence at many places, particularly during the lean months of river water flows. These hardly hold enough waters to feed their distributaries. As a result, 29 rivers have gradually died a gradual death.

Name of Rivers Corresponding Threat
Buriganga Pollution
Padma Farrakkaa Barrage
Jamuna Jamuna Bridge
Gorai & Madhumati Infrastructure
Pasur Water Over-extraction
Bhairab Over-fishing
Ichamoti Silting
Chitra Human Influence
Korotoa River Erosion
Shitalakkha Water Over-extraction
Teesta Tipaimukh dam
Table 1: Threat for Different Rivers

The entire region comprising Khulna, Jessore and Satkhira used to be ecologically alive from the flow of these now-dead rivers. The virtual death of these rivers has led to growing aridity in the region. This is causing havoc to the local economy and the lives of the people. Unilateral activities in the Indian territories to divert waters from common rivers in a larger amount, experts fear, will hurt Bangladesh’s interests most adversely and severely. Understandably India is facing its own problems in satisfying the demand for water by a number of its states. Inter-state disputes for sharing of the common rivers within the Indian territories have been on the rise. The central government of India has not yet been able to solve such disputes. But, as far as the joint rivers are concerned, Bangladesh as a lower-riparian country must uphold the legitimate rights of Bangladesh under the existing international norms, rules and laws. That is why a comprehensive bilateral agreement between Bangladesh and India for sharing of waters of the common rivers on a rational basis assumes a great deal of importance.Another major river, the Teesta, along with its tributaries, have already dried up inside Bangladesh.

Causes of Endangerment of River:

4.1 Shrinkage of River Boundaries:

The shrinking of our river boundaries and the related river banks has now become a ripe and ready source of owning free land, by people with muscle and influence. This sad episode has the beginning from the reckless withdrawing of water upstream by India. Although the matter is under dispute, the speed at which international arbitration and its toothless implementation will take place may well change the course of the rivers in Bangladesh; and they will all end up flowing into the sea, of what water is left, from India, particularly the Ganges coming from north-west India. Bangladesh will be then a dry land in the areas was once the Ganges used to flow! All that land will be then up for grabs! The famous Korotoa, which was flowing through north-western Panchagargh, Nilphamari, Rangpur, Bogra and Sirajganj, is now on the verge of its death. Similar fate is being faced by the Ichhamoti, which linked itself with the Brahmaputra flowing through north-western and central districts of Pabna, Manikganj, Dhaka and Munshinganj.

4.2 Human Influence:

People are also responsible for this dying state of the rivers. They are not allowing the rivers to flow in their normal course for which they are losing their usual or natural character.

4.3 Rapid Growth of Population:

The rapid population growth prompted people to occupy the floodplains and low-lying marshy lands obstructing their natural links with rivers, which are also crucial for the maintenance of ecosystems, containing floods and generating natural resources.

4.4 Farrakka Barrage:

The interventions in the upstream regions like the cross-border Farrakka Barrage reduce the flow of the Padma resulting in the death of its tributaries in the lower riparian areas, he said referring to the dying state of the Gorai.

4.5 Pollution:

4.5.1 Biological Pollution:

Rivers are dying because of biological pollution caused by dumping biological wastes eventually endangering quality of the aquifer too. Untreated sewage contains a large number of bacteria, some of these are of faecal origin such as the well known E.coli & many disease organisms. Many of these are lost during biological treatment but others survived. And these vast amounts of bacteria are the main culprit of biological pollution of rivers.

4.5.2 Dumping Waste of Factories:

Rivers get polluted when the factories dump their waste to the rivers. And this pollution leads to endangerment of the rivers.

Figure 2: Pollution due to dumping of wastes of factories.

4.5.3 Spraying Insecticides and Fertilizers:

Farmers use fertilizers and insecticides in their farmlands. In rainy season these chemicals wash away to the rivers and endanger our rivers badly.

4.5.4 Oil Spilling:

Oil spilling from the steamers, launches and speed-boats pollutes our rivers alarmingly which not only endangers our rivers but also the aquatic species of the rivers.

4.5.5 Harming Wildlife in Rivers:

People throw wastes, toxic sludge, chemical materials, litters etc in the rivers which make the river water harmful for the aquatic species.

4.5.6 Spilling of Dirty Water Without Recycling:

Rivers get polluted because people spill dirty water into the rivers without recycling. This is also an important cause behind the drying of our rivers.

4.5.7 Toxic Sludge:

Industrial dumping is primarily responsible for the Buriganga’s state. The tanneries around the Buriganga are the leading culprits. Some 40,000MT of toxic sludge containing hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, chlorine, chromium and other harmful chemicals from the tanneries are discharged into the Buriganga every day. The concentration of organic pollutant in the Buriganga is 17 times higher than the allowable limit of 3mg per liter. Chemical pollutants like ammonia, aluminium, cadmium, lead and mercury have also been detected in the Buriganga

4.6 Unplanned Water Structures:

Many rivers, particularly in the south-western region, were shrinking as greedy quarters were grabbing them by building structures like cross dams. The Nad Bhairab, which in the recent past used to wash the floodplains of Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jhinaidah, Jessore, Khulna and Bagerhat, is gradually dying. Same is the state of the Bhadra River of Khulna and the Kaliganga, which flows through Kushtia, Jhinaidah, Magura, Faridpur and Madaripur. The source of the Chitra in the region was lost killing the river.

4.7 Unplanned Growth of Infrastructures:

The unplanned growth of infrastructures including roads, houses and flood control structures also killed or are killing rivers in other areas of the country.

4.8 Shortsighted Engineering Interventions:

Shortsighted Engineering Interventions like embankment constructions or encroachments also often invite wraths of rivers in the form of erosion. There are engineering solutions to prevent erosion at any point. But such interventions prompt the rivers to erode with same strength its edges at some other point.

4.9 River Encroachment:

If the river is encroached from its both sides, it will not be surprising that in the near future the river will die, the water expert said. Because this action has not only increased the pollution but also changed the natural flow of river water. For example -the encroachment of the Buriganga is the reason behind its recent unusual behavior in eroding Basila area of the capital Dhaka.

4.10 The Ambitious Indian Plans:

The ambitious Indian plans to link major rivers flowing from the Himalayas and divert them south to drought-prone areas are still on the drawing board, but Bangladeshi government scientists estimated that even a 10% to 20% reduction in the water flow to the country could dry out great areas for much of the year.

4.11 River Erosion:

River erosion is one of the most vital causes of river bed siltation in Bangladesh. Every year, about thousand cubic meter of soil are destroyed by River erosion. Every main river of Bangladesh is affected by this environment disaster. The rate of erosion depends on many factors.

Climatic factors include the amount and intensity of precipitation, the average temperature, as well as the typical temperature range, and seasonality, the wind speed, storm frequency. Erosion is caused by fluid flow. Any substance, like wind, water, or ice, which flows consistently from one place to another, will facilitate erosion.

4.18 River Delta:

A delta is a landform that is formed at the mouth of a river where that river flows into an ocean, sea, estuary, lake, reservoir, flat arid area, or another river. Deltas are formed from the deposition of the sediment carried by the river as the flow leaves the mouth of the river. Over long periods of time, this deposition builds the characteristic geographic pattern of a river delta. Most of the rivers in Bangladesh are Delta Rivers. The Ganga – Brahmaputra basin comprises an area of about 10.98 lakh sq. km and the delta area is about 1,50,000 sq.km. Each year Ganga and Brahmaputra bring around 166.70 crore tonnes of silt and it is this silt which has created the world’s largest delta and the delta-building process is still ongoing.

Effect of Endangered Rivers:

5.1 Rising of Bars:

Farrakka barrage had created a blockade to slow down the flow of the international river Ganges, creating various problems in Bangladesh. India’s unilateral withdrawal of water through the Farrakka point was largely responsible for slow inflow in different rivers including Gorai in Bangladesh. The insufficient water in the common rivers are causing various problems, ultimately affecting the economy as well as the environment in Bangladesh. Our agriculture and environment are facing various adversities due to slow water flows in our rivers.

5.2 Problem in Water Transportation:

In Bangladesh majority people depend on water transportation as it is the cheapest and safest mode of transportation. Because of drying and shrinkage of the rivers many rivers have become unable for transportation.

5.3 Unemployment Problem:

Drying up of our major rivers causes severe unemployment problem. Many Fishermen have lost their occupations and trying for other occupations for the better livelihood.

5.4 Agriculture:

The cultivating process of our country fully depends on our rivers. The dryingness of our rivers causes infertility of our soil which results poor agricultural production. Agriculture production requires irrigation. Lack of sufficient surface water from the rivers, canals etc. has seriously reduced the scope of irrigation and thus cause lower food production. On the other hand, due to lack of surface water, we are much dependent on ground water. Depletion of water table under the ground is causing desertification.

5.5 Desertification:

If we don’t take any steps to save our endangered rivers and this process is going on like this then the day is not far when our country will turn into a desert.

5.6 Down Trend of Economy:

Bangladesh is a riverine country. When the rivers dry up the people related with different river based work such as fishing, boating and so on becomes jobless and workless. Thus the death of these rivers and the consequent growing aridity in the region has brought havoc to the local economy and the lives of people.

5.7 Endangered Aquatic Species:

Many fishes and other water born species are lost already and many others are in a risk. The abundance of the famous Padma hilsha is on decline and if this drying of rivers continues then very soon the natural water species will die forever.

5.8 Unbalance in Eco-system:

When rivers dry up, the food chain gets shorter, claims a study published an October 2010 issue of Science. Large-bodied fish, which are top river predators, cannot survive in the low oxygen-high temperature conditions of drought and thus perish.

5.9 Climatic Change:

When rivers dry up the water balance system get changed which results climatic change on our environment. Severe climatic change can cause different types of natural disasters like floods droughts, earthquake, excess rainfall etc.

5.10 The Indian Plans:

Most of the rivers of Bangladesh have originated in India. Any water withdrawal plan of India threatens Bangladesh. Bangladeshi scientists estimated that even a 10% to 20% reduction in the water flow to the country could dry out vast areas for much of the year. India had so far not committed to consult Bangladesh on the Tipaimukh Dam. It is now poised to build it without consultation. The Dam is certain to cause adverse effects to North-Eastern and central Bangladesh by interfering with the flow of the Meghna. If things go on like this, then Bangladesh would soon be headed for an environmental disaster.

5.11 Decreasing the Underground Water Level:

The water level of the rivers is decreasing alarmingly and at the same time the Underground water level is going down too. Depletion of water table under the ground is causing desertification and severs water scarcity in the big cities and town.

5.12 River Delta and River Bars:

The drying up of the rivers results river delta and river bars here and there. The excess of organic matters in our deltaic soil has caused the meandering rivers having sharp bends and ultimately losing the flow and consequently silted up leading to dryness. For the braided rivers, there are chars on the body of the rivers.

5.13 River Encroachment & Shrinkage:

These actions not only increase the pollution but also change the natural flow of the rivers. If the river is encroached from its both sides, it will not be surprising that in the near future the river will die, the water expert said.

Graph-1: Comparison of Water Flow of Different Rivers of Bangladesh.

5.14 Pollution:

Due to dying and reduction of flow of water in the rivers pollution has also increased. The rivers are gifted with the natural capacity of spoiling the dusts virus and bacteria as rivers are dying up so environmental pollution is taken place.

5.15 Famine:

The people of north- western part of the country are suffering for want of food which is an indirect result of dying up the rivers.

5.16 Increasing Population in Town and Cities:

According to recent media information, 29 rivers in the South-Western part of the country have already died from progressively reduced flow of the Padma in Bangladesh after the construction of the Farrakka barrage in India. So People here have been migrating to other areas especially to the cities and towns in search of better livelihood. So the population of the town is increasing alarmingly day by day.

Initiatives of Endangered Rivers:

6.1 Preventing the Encroachment of the Riverbanks:

Grabbers and encroachers have grabbed major parts of the rivers .About 80% river banks of Buriganga has been encroached already .This actions not only increase the pollution but also change the natural flow of the rivers .So we have to take enough measures to stop these illegal actions as soon as possible. If the govt. can determine the actual area of the rivers and make boundaries then we can solve this problem.

6.2 Proper Treatment for Industrial Chemicals and Wastes:

The toxic wastes of tanneries and untreated industrial refuses and chemicals thrown by different factories and tanneries should be released only after processing in scientific way so that they cannot harm the rivers anymore. In short no industry should operate without proper treatment facility.

6.3 Relocation of Tanneries and Factories:

We have to relocate tannery from Hazaribagh to its designated location and set up treatment plant for its wastes. We can impose a law against constructing the industrial factories on the riverside. This step can reduce the risk of dying rivers a lot.

6.4 Ensuring the Safe Flow of the Rivers:

Unplanned bridges, dams, culverts etc hamper the natural flow of the rivers. So we should construct bridges, culverts, dams in such a way that they cannot damage the flow of the rivers which ultimately cause the rivers to die. In shorts we have to ensure safe flow of the rivers among the countries.

6.5 Formation of Vigilant Team:

An all party River Commission with line professionals must be set up as vigilant team to police against river occupation and river pollution. If we can control the river occupation and river pollution then we will be able to save our endangered rivers.

6.6 Increasing the Dredging Activities:

Our rivers need extensive appropriate dredging to clear the bottom of polyphone and increase navigability. So we have to dredge them from time to time to increase the water level. Then, we have to plant more trees around the rivers to keep the water level high. Moreover, we can create canal between flowing & endangered rivers. This will help to restart the flow in the rivers.

6.7 Preventing Our Rivers from the Builders:

Many major property builders getting permission from Rajuk are reclaiming land from rivers to build housing complexes. Rajuk has allegedly ignored their own policies and guidelines. Now if any government organization goes for massive actions to free river banks or rivers then there may be judicial complexities.

6.8 Creating Mass Awareness:

Creating awareness among the mass people can reduce the dying of our rivers. In this regard, both government & non-governmental organizations should come forward to people aware about the impacts & effects due to drying of rivers and how to save them. Advertisement in newspaper, radio & television can help us in this regard.

6.9 Education on Future Impacts:

Education on endangered rivers must be inserted in the syllabus of our younger generation. Importance must be given on the present impacts & future effects due to the drying of rivers. They should also learn that any unbalance in our water system can create the ecological problems resulting in natural disasters. Moreover due to water reduction in rivers, water level goes to more downward in soil which may also cause infertility in soil & on further reaction the zone may be converted to desert. Thus proper education will make them more conscious on endangered rivers.

6.10 Future Plans to Save the Endangered Rivers:

We have to take long time plans to save our endangered rivers otherwise we will not be able to save our countries. If we think about Europe, Australia and other developed countries then we will see how carefully their rivers have been kept free of all nuisances. We can take them as ideal models and can save our rivers by take same measures.

6.11 Resolving the Political Issues with India:

Most of the rivers of our country have been originated from India. So without resolving the political issues like Farrakka Barrage, Tipaimukh dam etc with India we will never be able to save our rivers. Besides we have to be very careful so that India government cannot take any kind of steps so that the natural flow of our rivers gets hampered.


Bangladesh is called a riverine country. It is criss-crossed by a large number of rivers like a net. These rivers are lifeline of the economy, the ecosystem and the culture of the land. The rivers in the monsoon bring huge sediment to fertilize the soil for increased yield, replenish the aquifer to be used for drinking water and irrigating croplands. The rivers are the major source of fish protein for the country’s huge population. They are still crucial for the transportation of commercial products. But now these important resources of our country are now at a risk. So let us return the rivers to be rivers. It’s our duty to keep them alive for our own sake and this can only be done with an all out efforts by both the people and the government.


?We have to create mass awareness among the people about the impacts & effects due to drying of rivers and how to save them.

?We have to take long time plans to save our endangered rivers otherwise we will not be able to save our countries. We can take some developed countries as ideal models and can save our rivers by take same measures.

?We will never be able to save our rivers without resolving the political issues like Farrakka Barrage, Tipaimukh dam etc with India. So we have to be very careful so that India govt. cannot take any kind of steps so that the natural flow of our rivers gets hampered.

? Survey works on rivers especially on the endangered ones should be conducted every year by experienced water resources engineers and geologists so that we can know the natural flow of the rivers.

?We have to dredge the rivers from time to time to increase the depth of these rivers and also to increase the capacity of water contain of the rivers.

?We should construct bridges, culverts, dams in such a way that they cannot damage the flow of the rivers which ultimately cause the rivers to die.

?If we can control the river encroachment and pollution then we will be able to save our endangered rivers. For these we have to form vigilant teams to handle and control these encroachment and pollution.

?We should give importance to the present impacts & future effects due to the drying of rivers. Thus proper education will make us more conscious on endangered rivers.

Bangladesh possesses an extensive system of wetlands, which have been estimated at nearly 50 percent of the total land surface. But it is a matter of great regret that due to unplanned growth of Bangladesh in all dimensions over the last four decades we have indiscriminately misused our rivers and lost them thereby. Many rivers have been lost from Bangladesh’s topography in the past several decades while seven more are on the verge of their death as experts said. The past beauty of the rivers has already gone. Rivers are polluted to such an extent that no aquatics can survive. Grabbers and encroachers have grabbed major parts of the rivers. Major industries like tanneries, textiles are constantly dumping untreated toxic industrial refuses to river. All these are leading our rivers gradually to the death. Moreover reckless human interventions, unplanned growth of water structures and infrastructures are killing the streams physically as well as chemically and biologically. As water bodies are lost, recharging of the underground water is decreasing and consequently the underground water table has fallen precariously. Bangladesh being the downstream and deltaic portion of a huge watershed is naturally vulnerable to the water quality and quantity that flows into it from upstream. All major rivers flowing through Bangladesh have their origins outside its borders, and, therefore, any interventions in the upper riparian regions have a significant impact on Bangladesh. Due to the shrinkage of the rivers, many rivers have become unable for transportation. The natural direction of flow of the rivers has also changed. Not only that the endangered rivers have led our aquatic species in risk. The dying of our rivers has caused infertility of our soil which results poor agricultural production. Desertification and natural disasters- have become very common. If people of Bangladesh do not rise in one voice, in another 10 years Bangladesh will become an inhabitable barren Country. Rivers across Bangladesh will be the events of the past. So it is the high time we took enough steps to save our rivers. First of all we have to ensure the safe flow of the rivers. Then Bangladesh government has to prevent the encroachment of the rivers and ensure regular dredging activities to keep the water level high. Proper treatment for industrial chemicals and wastes, relocation of tanneries and factories, formation of vigilant team can save our rivers from dying. The people have to make aware about the impacts & effects of drying of rivers and how to save them. If the government along with the whole nation works in hand in hand only then our desired aim will fulfill and we will be able to save our rivers from dying.

List of References:

Books & Journals:

Bangladesh Journals of Water Resources Engineering; River Management of Bangladesh; BUET; Page no.13

H.B.N. Hynes (1988); The Biology of Polluted Water; University Printing House, Cambridge; Liverpool University Pres. Page no.93

M. Mirza, A. Dixit, A. Nishat (2002); Flood Problem and Management of Bangladesh, Hardcover, Springer London, Limited.

A. Nishat (1991) ; River Basin Development, Bangladesh National Symposium on River Basin Development ;Dhaka, Amjad H. Khan Soft cover, Books Intl.

S. K. Azad (2005); Growing Numbers of Dying Rivers in Bangladesh; Banglabazar, Dhaka; Page no.19

K. Alamand D. Marinova (2003); Sustainability and River Restoration; Toowoomba, Queensland 4350, Australia.

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