Number of rivers in Bangladesh is 907: National River Conservation Commission
There is a debate over the actual number of rivers in the country. The National River Conservation Commission (NRCC), however, has said the number is 907 and the longest river is Ichamati.
The NRCC published a list of the rivers on its website on 10 August, saying that this was a draft list. The list has been prepared following long process over a long time. The Commission published an advertisement on newspapers requesting people to inform it in writing if anyone has any objection or opinion regarding the list of the rivers. Friday was deadline for people in this regard.
The NRCC said no river in the list is dead, though some dry up in the summer. But not a single river in the list is lost or dead.
One of the main reasons of confusion over the number of rivers in Bangladesh is that there is no authoritative organisation to ascertain the number. Bangladesh Water Development Board in a publication in 2011 said the number of rivers in the country is 405. But as controversies arose over the number, the BWDB is set to begin a study with the help of its ancillary organisation, Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services, to know the exact number of rivers in Bangladesh.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, BWDB director (geology) Anwar Zahid on Friday afternoon said presumably the number of rivers in the country would be more than 700.
Some of river researchers, however, claimed the number is more than 1,000.
The initiative of National River Conservation Commission could put a stop to this longstanding debate over the number or rivers in the country. In a verdict, the High Court on 3 February, 2019, said the National River Conservation Commission is the guardian of all the rivers. They are responsible to finalise the actual number of rivers. The court in the verdict also mentioned rivers as a living entity.
River expert professor Ainun Nishat, however, does not agree with the number the National River Conservation Commission has mentioned. He told Prothom Alo on Friday evening, “The initiative of the National River Conservation Commission is a very good one but the process of identifying the river is not. One cannot finalise the number of rivers before adopting a proper definition of river.”
How was the survey done?
NRCC officials said no conclusive document existed on the number of rivers in the country. The list of WDB consisting of 405 rivers is not based on clear data. The rivers mentioned in the map of Bangladesh are not also well documented.
The NRCC took up the project of listing the rivers in 2019. NRCC’s recent past deputy director Md Akhtaruzzaman was involved with the project from the very beginning. He told Prothom Alo, “We sent letters to the deputy commissioners of every district seeking the list of rivers of their respective districts as all land-related documents are stored in the DC office. For the work, importance was given to the CS (Cadastral Survey) and RS (Revisional Survey) documents of the survey department.”
The NRCC sought four particular queries, among other things, to the DCs. These are: Where each river originates and ends (where it meets another river or ocean), which districts the rivers flow through, which upazilas the rivers pass through and what is the length of the river.
DCs collect the information with help from upazila nirbahi officers, assistant commissioners (land) and Water Development Board officials and send to NRCC. Later the draft list is prepared coordinating the data received from 64 districts and data from Water Development Boards and other organisations that work with rivers.
NRCC said the list would be finalised upon careful review of the opinion and objection came after publishing the draft list on the website.
Till yesterday, seven persons sent their opinions to the NRCC. Commission sent letters to DCs and executive engineers of WDB of every district. After receiving opinion from all of them, the NRCC would finalise the list of rivers in the country in consultation with experts.
Sylhet has most rivers
It was assumed that Barishal has the highest number of rivers. But the division has 99 rivers. Four districts of Sylhet are crisscrossed by 157 rivers, the most among the divisions. Chattogram has the lowest number of rivers as the division has 60 rivers.
Mymensingh and Khulna divisions are in the second and third positions in terms of the number of rivers. The number of rivers in these two divisions is 135 and 124 respectively. Rangpur division has 121 rivers and Dhaka division has 118. And the number of rivers in Rajshahi division is 71.
Some rivers flows through more than one district and some pass through more than one division. For example, Brahmaputra flows through both Rangpur and Mymensingh divisions and Karatoa through both Rangpur and Rajshahi. The number of such is 22.
Ichamati is the longest river
According to NRCC, 334 kilometer long Ichamati is the longest river in the country. The river flows through 10 upazilas of Chuadanga, Jashore, Jhenaidah and Satkhira. Ichamati is a trans-boundary river. It originates in India and meets Raimangal river in Satkhira. Meandering flow makes this river so long.
The Ichamati River flows across Chuadanga, Jashore, Jhenaidah, and Satkhira districts. Interestingly, there are nine other rivers across the country with the same name, Ichamati.
The Dhanu River ranked as the second longest river in the country, with a stretch of 303 km, according to the river conservation commission.
The Padma River has been positioned as the third longest river in Bangladesh, but the commission did not mention its exact length. It said the river originates from India and courses through 12 districts before meeting the Meghna River.
Asked about its length, Akhtaruzzaman, former deputy director of NRCC, said it will be close to 300 km. The process to assess its length is underway in several districts.
The draft list mentioned 52 rivers with a length of more than 100 km and 15 rivers with a length of more than 200 km.
Definition of river
Experts and all concerned organisations have agreed that there should be a clear definition for the river.
During a conversation with Prothom Alo, professor Ainun Nishat said there are differences between a river and a canal. What is considered a canal in Barishal might be catagorised as a river in northern areas. There are some rifts in hilly areas that usually remain water-filled, but dry up occasionally. There should be a definitive differentiation between rivers and canals.
NRCC chairman Manjur A Chowdhury said they held workshops with the experts over determining the definition. For the time being, they are conducting their activities as per a workable definition. The people will learn it when the definition will be finalised through a law.
The issues of river pollution and encroachment have been in discussion for more than two decades. There is no certain data about the rivers that have succumbed to encroachment and pollution.
Earlier, the NRCC published a list of river encroachers in different districts. The list, however, was not complete as the commission had no certain information regarding the number of rivers. The current initiative will help know the exact number of rivers across the country as well as prevent river grabbing and pollution.
* The report was originally published in the Print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for English edition by Shameem Reza, Galib Ashraf and Misbahul Haque