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Saving Buriganga Saving Dhaka Every great civilization of the history began on the bank of a river.

. From Egypt to Mahenjodaro to Pataliputra, the ancient cities of the past were located either beside the Nile, Indus or Ganges.

We are a nation rich in rivers. Rivers run through our history and folklore, and link us as a people. For Dhaka, to develop from a city to a Megacity, Buriganga also play a vital role. Dhaka has an inseparable relationship with Buriganga its lifeline. But we have been ignoring that fact and in making the river disappear, we cannot continue to make life possible.

Thanks to acute environmental pollution and a section of influential quarters engaged in encroaching upon and grabbing bit by bit, the river on which Dhaka grew up for over hundreds of years has been stealthily, shrinking and slowly dying.

The cancer of water pollution is engendered by our abuse of our rivers. If we ignore this cancer for much longer, the romance of environmental concern will fade in the shadow of the grim realities of rivers and bays where all forms of life smothered by untreated wastes can no longer sustain. To trace the history of a river or a raindropis also to trace the history of the people beside. Rivers always have been the guides, which conducted the footsteps of the first travelers. When they flow by our doors, the dwellers on their banks at length accompany their currents. The changing phases of Buriganga too mark the growth of Dhaka from the first settlement along the riverbank till now.

The history, culture, economy and splendor of Dhaka, from the days of tiny township up to the existing bustling Mega City, have greatly been influenced by the presence of

Buriganga. It has been playing the role of the central arterial connection for the city of Dhaka as the Thames is for London, the Seine for Paris, and the Nile for Cairo.

Buriganga, the river, which was once deep and navigable by large boats gave Dhaka with it minarets and spacious buildings the appearance, like that of Venice, Of a city rising from the surface of the water. Since the 7th century AD, when Dhaka was part of the Buddhist kingdom of Kamrup, the citys size and fortune has seen many troughs and crests. Standing on the northern bank of Buriganga afforded her a command over the water routes. Through the Buriganga and the Dhaleswari, to which the former is a loop, Dhaka is connected by navigable waterways with the Ganges and the Brahmaputra.

This geographical location of Dhaka, motivated Islam Khan, the Mughal subadar to transfer his capital from Rajmahal in 1610. Dhaka as the capital of mughal province of Bengal, experienced tremendous growth and prosperity. During the period of Ibrahim Khan Dhaka attained great commercial importance and became a trading center of the whole south Asia. One characteristic of waterfront cities is that when we arrive by boat, we enter them, not on their periphery but in their center. In some we would land right in front of residential buildings intermixed with business structures and warehouses. Which was true for Dhaka at a time of its glorious past.

At the time of Ibrahim Khan, the Chawk served as the central business district and was called the Badshahi bazaar. This was rich in merchandise and colorful in appearance. It was close to the Buriganga River, which served as the principal means of communication.

The present is also a hum of life that envelops the surrounding today. But it has turned into a wholesale area of hustling and bustling. Another dynamic area of Dhaka, Sadarghat

was once where the city begin and a vital reverine node, has now become a symbol of sharp physical and environmental deterioration.

The present Buriganga offers no potential view or anything at all. We have turned our back to the river, on which the life of the city still depends. Despite the government vow to stop encroachments, the river has virtually been reduced to a narrow canal of polluted slime.

The only means of transportation, which existed in the 17th century Dhaka, was in the form of water transport establishing communication linkage with the rest of the country.

The deeper and wider course of the channel of the river created a defense barrier to the city and from this security perspective the Fort of Lalbagh was constructed on the northern bank of the Buriganga.

Through the heart of the old town, once flowed a number of canals. These canals were the routes for communication within the city. The Dhulai Khal, which at present has largely dried up, was a canal excavated by the first mughal governor of Dhaka. It was retained for future planning of the city to convert this inland water basin for country boats flanked with revetments, bridges etc.

Now, this canal flows the filth and dirt of the city.

The most prized residential areas were at that time the riverside areas of Buriganga. At the tail end of the mughal rule and the inception of British power around 1765, Dhaka gradually lost its role as a trading center. But the charm of the riverfront continued up to the beginning of the present century and the most important high-class areas continued to be at the bank of the Buriganga.

In 1947, at the time of partition, Dhaka became the capital of East Pakistan.

Business center moved to Motijheel and Area along the Buriganga became the area for wholesale trade. Dhanmondi and Ramna developed as high-class residential area.

After independence, industrial growth occurred in three areas, Tejgaon, Postagola and Hazaribagh. Motijheel continued to be the business center. In old Dhaka the land generally is now purchased not for residential purpose but for business and small industries.

What Dhaka has become now, it can hardly be called a city. It lacks an overall plan that could guide its development. At the same time, its losing its civic places, public realmthe places where collective activities can take place.

The majority of the dwellers have no direct contact with the river now. Buriganga, the vital riverine node, where the city once began, has now become a symbol of sharp physical and environmental deterioration. The Buriganga is not just a romantic presence in peoples mind; it is still a major factor in the citys economic and ecological well being. Though the chaotic and anarchic activities along the river are resulting in the death of the river.

We came from the water and water plays a fundamental role in our psychology. We need constant access to water, all around us. But every where in our city water is gradually getting out of reach.

But the very movement of the people toward the water also destroys the water. Roads, freeways, and industries destroy the water edge and make it dirty or so treacherous that, it is virtually inaccessible. Or when waters edge is preserved, it falls into private hands or wrong hands.

When natural bodies of water occurs near human settlements, we must treat them with respect and should always preserve a belt of common land, immediately beside the water.

It should be understood that people would have a tendency to build near the water, as it is entirely natural. But the land immediately along the water edge must be preserved for common use. To this end, the roads, which can destroy the edges, must be kept back from it and only allowed near it when they lie at right angles to it.

The width of the belt of land along the water may vary with the type of water. Density of development along it and the ecological conditions. Along high-density development, it may be no more than a simple promenade. Along low-density development it may be a common parkland extending hundreds of yards beyond.

The issue of monumentalising waters edge is complicated by functional arguments, to the extent that a river is a working watercourse. There is a definite conflict between those who make use of it for trade-related activities and those who would turn it into work of arts. The both issues must treated with accordance to the need.

When we save a river, we also save a major part of an ecosystem, and we save ourselves as well because of our dependence--physical, economic, spiritual, --on the water.

Buriganga River can again become major lifeblood. And the river front a much more organized in providing a renewed recreational civic, economic and transport facilities for the residents of Dhaka. And the city, in general with thoughtful and imaginative planning these areas could be transformed into something befitting the riverfront of any civilized city. It could be an important step towards making Dhaka a decent and livable place.