The longest river in Bangladesh, the Surma, has deteriorated from being a mighty river to barely being navigable.
With shoals forming all over it including its source and mouth, the river’s flow is constricted during dry weather, with six to seven months of no flowing water. This also restricts the movement of cargo vessels.
As a result, Sylhetis have long been clamouring for the dredging of the river in order to pump new life into it. Sources say that this plan was recently put into motion, but even though the river is 249 kilometres, only 600 metres have been dredged by the Water Development Board (WDB).
Sylhet WDB Executive Engineer Shirajul Islam said work began on the dredging project at Surma in January, and it is scheduled to end on April 29. However, proposals have been sent to higher-ups regarding dredging in more locations on the river.
“If the projects are carried out, some flow will return to the river,” he added.
Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) has been fighting to have the government dredge the river to have its navigability restored. The organization’s Sylhet General Secretary Abdul Karim Kim said: “In the current dry season, the only water flowing in the river is in the Lobhachhara area. It is important to dredge areas between here and the river’s source. WDB might dredge elsewhere, but they should prioritize areas near the source and focus on the tide.”
Descending from India’s Assam as Barak, the river enters Bangladesh as Surma and Kushiara. The Surma then flows through several areas including Golapganj, Surma Sadar, and Kanaighat before connecting with the Meghna.
Kanaighat journalist Alauddin said: “During the monsoon months, Surma is full to the brim. However, winter sees it dry up and form shoals. This restricts the movement of commercial boats and hampers the economic usefulness of the river.”
He also mentioned that the loss of navigability of the river means that Kanaighat’s main river port had to be relocated, but that some dredging would alleviate the problem.
Dry weather has caused several areas of the river to become clogged with shoals. Moreover, pockets of stagnant water have become polluted, causing the water to emit a foul smell in the vicinity.