Find the River

I must write about work – or else I might burst.

I’ve been in the field on an assignment: its got to do with Bangladesh’s enormous textiles and fabric dyeing sector and its interactions with the environment. The ready-made garments (RMG) and textiles are the mainstay of the country’s exports. So, naturally, the government is friendly to, if not lenient on, the sector. But there is a growing concern about the sectors’ environmental impact – especially on water. Even before my excursion, I was quite sure that people would not see a potential threat/risk to water since Bangladesh is literally criss-crossed by rivers and sweetwater is abundant.

***

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View of the Local Government Offices and school playground

It was a semi-urban locality – the place I visited this week. Semi-urban in Bangladesh usually consists of a main thoroughfare, a central market organized around the local government structures, a couple of schools, a residential area of about 40/50 (concrete) houses and a vast rural shanty-town (tin/thatch-roofed huts) lined by cropfields. Utilities are insufficient at best.

Initial findings suggest that the underground water-table has dropped from 100 feet (below) to about 250 feet. This is measured by how deep you have to sink your tubewell. Because a disproportionate amount of water is being abstracted (by industries and communities) – people are having to go deeper and deeper to reach water.

So, there we have it: too much water is being used up. But that’s not where the challenge ends. A lot of waste water – sometimes untreated and toxic – is flowing out to the adjacent river-system. And investigating that was a key objective.

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The Turag River from the market-side
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Close-up view of the water

I went down to the Turag river and it seemed glowing and pristine. Quaint little boats loaded with watermelons looked as if they had been painted on to the scenery. Its only once I was down by the bank that the stench hit me. The water had turned completely black at that point. Dark globs of pollutants floated near the surface. The water-hyacinth didn’t have much time left.

It was truly sad sight. Standing there, it made me think of elephants killed for ivory: life for commerce. The mighty Turag: once majestic and historic – now reduced to this scant flow of waste. I was witnessing the death of a living, moving organism that sustained our lives. I was humbled by my helplessness.

***

There’s really nothing I can do. But I’m going back there tomorrow. And I’ll be going back for the better part of the year. In each colleague, government officer, citizen, journalist, fisherman, entrepreneur I meet – I have a potential ally. Together we shall find the real Turag again.

The river to the ocean goes,
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of ginger, lemon, indigo,
Coriander stem and rose of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way

[Find the River, REM]

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