Special Feature

Water crisis: a severe threat for biodiversity - More than 50 rivers are dying in the northern region

09 Apr,2014

Special Correspondent:

Water crisis is creating a dangerously threatening situation for biodiversity in the northern region of the country as the rivers in the region are gradually dying. There have been no effective initiatives for dredging the rivers and creating storage of water.

However, dredging the rivers in the northern part of the country is needed as they are in dying condition due to siltation and the impact of the Farakka barrage, which was built by India in the upper part of the river Padma. The unilateral withdrawal of water through upper part of the Padma has left its impact on the rivers flowing across the northern region. About 50 rivers are on the point of dying. Within a short period, the existences of these rivers will extinct, experts said.

According to the experts, the unilateral withdrawal of water from the river Padma has slowed down the flows of the rivers that are fed by it. The rivers with little water from upper part of the Padma have lost their flow in the dry season. The rivers though are in spate in the rainy season become lean in their flows in the dry season. Absence of current helps deposit sands and silts on the riverbeds, which are gradually being filled in.

Waters in the rainy season overflowing the banks enter into the villages wreaking havoc on the crops by the riverbanks. People of the northern region are not benefiting from the meetings that are being held every year regarding the distribution of water from the Farakka barrage.




With the beginning of dry season, the turbulent Padma turns into sandy char’s miles after miles and the other rivers fed by the Padma are losing navigability. Apart from the 44 rivers of the northern region, 95 rivers across the country are on the verge of extinction.

Dead rivers:

The list of dying rivers in Bangladesh is ever growing. The rivers that have already died includes the Bhulli of Panchgarh, Choto-Chepa, Aman-Damon, Lona, Lacchi of Thakurgaon, Nalshisha, Kula, Gareswari Ichamati, Mila, Patherghata, Nort, Belan, Tulshiganga, Choto Jamuna, Chiri, Tetulia of Dinajpur, Khorkhoria, Kharubhaj, Ghirni, Chara, Bullai, Auriakhuna of Nilphamari. Moreover, the Naleya, Alaikumari, Mora Teesta of Rangpur, Shib, Musa Khana of Naogaon, Ichamati, Ganglai, Rawnai, Gomani, Hurasagor, Boral, Layer, Nagar, Sutikhali, Khageswari, Chiknai of Bogra and Jinjiram of Kurigram district are also dying.

The river research survey identifies these as seasonal rivers. The rivers, which have been silted up, contain no water in the dry season. Local people grow different types of crops on the riverbeds. The list of the rivers that will soon dry up and die includes Chatnai, Pakuraj, Mohananda Upper, Tirnoi, Ramchandi, Khorka, Kurum, Gobra, Petki, Ghoramara, Korotoa, Berang, Bhersa, Tangon, Talma, Dahuk, Chowai of Panchgarh, Kulik of Thakurgaon. Besides those Chepa, Kankra of Dinajpur, Chikly, Dhanosh, Dhaijan, Burikhora, Naotara, Dhum, Buri Tilka of Nilphamari, Ghagot, Akhira of Rangpur, Fulkumar of Kurigram and Boral upper of Rajshahi districts.

A study on the rivers reveals that the rivers that contain little water during the dry season have no experience and no impacts of ebb and low tide. The rivers after being silted up would lose their existence in future. This would bring in disaster on the ecological balance. A survey conducted by the Statistics Bureau reveals that the number of rivers across the country is 710.


river 2



Due to the dying out of the rivers agriculture, navigation, fisheries, forestry, salinity and various components of the ecosystem are being threatened. Farakka barrage accelerates the problems as the unilateral withdrawal of the Ganges water during the low flow months has caused both long-term and short-term effects that affect Bangladesh. If the situation continues then the following impact will be seen:

Long-Term Impacts:

  • One fourth of the fertile agricultural land will become wasteland due to a shortage of water.
  • Thirty million lives are affected through environmental and economical ruin.
  • An estimated annual economic loss of over half a billion dollars in agricultural, fisheries, navigation and industries.
  • Frequent flooding due to environmental imbalance and changes in the natural flow of the Ganges.

Immediate impacts:


  • Reduction in agricultural products due to insufficient water for irrigation.
  • Reduction in aquatic population.
  • Tranportation problems: boats rendered useless; tributaries are dry during dry season.
  • Increased salinity threatening crops, animal life drinking water and industrial activities in southwest Bangladesh.



river 3



Existing conditions and experts Opinions:

Hydrological survey under Water Development Board has published a report mentioning the length, width and depth of the rivers. The biggest river in the country in terms of length, width and depth is Meghna. The length of the river is 330 kilometer. Its width near Bhairab is 1.50km and depth is 27 meter. The smallest river in the country is Gorra at Tetulia in Panchgarh district. The length of the river is 4-kilometer and the depth is 15-meter. At present the depth of the river is being silted and the depth is stood at nearly 30-centimeter.

The report also mentioned that the length of the rover Padma is 115-kilometer while its width near the Mawa is 5-kim and 711 meter. Its depth is 18.80 meter. In dry season the depth stands at 7-meter only. The river Brahmaputra is 60km long and 10425 meter width while depth is 20 meter only. The river Jamuna is 90-km long, 1200-meter wide and 12 meter deep.

According to a source in Hydrological Survey Research Center, the center selected 90-95 rivers for the examination of matters relating to the deposition of silts. These rivers have divided into five groups. The rivers Padma, Meghna, Jamuna belong to the first group. Cross section (erosion and silt survey) is conducted in the rivers in the dry season every year.

The second group includes 12 rivers where cross section is conducted every two alternate years while there are 19 rivers in third group where cross section is conducted once after three years. The fourth group includes 20 rivers where cross section is conducted once after four years while in the fifth group the cross section is conducted once after every five years that includes 40 rivers respectively.


river 4


Professor Dr. Abu Hanif Sheikh of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies of Rajshahi University said, “For construction of the Farakka barrage in the upper part of the river Padma made the northern part of the country into an ecological, environmental threat. The biodiversity of this region also faces a crisis that causes environmental imbalance.”

Echoing Dr. Sheikh, Professor Sarwar Jahan of the Institute of Environmental Science of Rajshahi University said, “If the Tipaimukh dam is built then the same condition will repeat in the eastern part of the country, as we saw happening in the northern part because of the Farakka Barrage.”

He also said it should consider the international laws regarding the joint river commission and the government should take proper initiatives regarding this matter.

Steps Taken to Resolve the Problem:

  • Since 1951 negotiations between the former government of Pakistan and India did not bear any results.
  • After Independence the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission met over 90 times without any results.
  • In April 1975, Bangladesh agreed to a trial operation of the Farakka Barrage for the period from April 21 - May 31 to divert 11,000-16,000 cfs. India, however, continued to divert the full capacity of 40,000 cfs after May 31.
  • On November 26, 1976 the U.N. General Assembly adopted a consensus statement directing the parties to reach at a fair and expeditious settlement.
  • On November 5, 1977 the Ganges Waters Agreement was signed, assuring 34,500 cfs for Bangladesh.

Current Status:

The five-year treaty expired in 1982 and after several shorter extensions, lapsed entirely in 1989. India is now diverting 40,000 cfs with complete disregard to Bangladesh's fair share.

More Special Feature