Requiem and rejoice for Canals – Abu Muaj and Khandoker Adnan Eshfat
Despite having so many rivers and canals, Dhaka with dirt and poor drainage here and there, is one of least liveable cities in the world. The loss and disappearance of canals to the land grabbers in Bangladesh may be followed by huge media cry or environmentalists staging demonstrations. Nobody can predict whether the mayors of Dhaka north and south city corporations, miffed up by the water logging and loss of natural beauty, will be futuristic and earmark money to dig canals. Or the Bangladesh government may set the goal of digging canals across the Dhaka city by 2050 when 50 canals of the mega city are grabbed to construct high-rises and long forgotten. New set of leaders will appear on the horizon of the dirty city in the distant future. New city mayor or metropolitan government, exhausted and tired of the chaos of concrete jungle and clogged plus narrow drains, will end up being revolutionary and mapping out a well-planned city. New projects will be taken then and crores of taka will be pumped into canal projects. Fifty or more canals will be dug along the course of old channels but at the cost of the drainage of huge public funds whereas the canals could have been saved, so is the money of the government exchequer.
Living along the canals either manmade or natural has been taking place from time immemorial. Humans needed canals for two purposes— one for navigation and another for irrigation. Of the two categories, ‘conveyance’ canals are dug to irrigate farmlands.
Dhaka city, nearly blessed like Italian city Venice or Amsterdam, had its own natural inland waterways or canals along with four rivers. It is a plane land on mostly an alluvial terrace, popularly Pleistocene period’s Madhupur terrace surrounded by four major river systems, namely the Buriganga, Turag, Tongi and Balu, flows to the south, west, north and east sides, respectively are mainly nourished by local rainfalls and during monsoons also receive spills from three mighty river Ganges, Brahmamaputra and Meghna’s crisscrossing of the country through their tributaries and distributaries. Major canals of Dhaka city include Hazaribagh, Rayerbazar, Ramchandrapur, Katasur, Gabtoli, Kallyanpur, Dhanmondi, Razabazar, Kathalbagan, Paribagh and Begun Bari had lost its navigability and link with four rivers around the city.
Bangladesh’s shipbuilding industry is growing at a time when canals are disappearing and the number of rivers are dwindling or losing navigability. Though Bangladesh is honestly touchy among awarding unique monikers of ‘land and water’ sketches, with 9000 sq kilometre of territorial water, water connectivity and port led maritime development economy could be a potential daunt and hindrance here in its South Asian count.
Bangladesh being host of one of the largest inland waterway networks in the world that is crisscrossed by around 24000 km, connecting almost all the major cities, towns, and commercial centres, occupying about 11 per cent of the country’s surface with 700 natural tributaries and rivers.
But about 5,970 km is navigable with mechanised in controversy perhaps to automated vessels of this distance range; in dry period which squeezes to about 3,970 km from it. During lean season the navigation for heavy vessels difficult too. Around 12,000 km of classified waterways from 1970’s figure has now “dwindled” to almost 6,000 km, to whom the ‘space’ of time and ignorance in maintenance dredging are healing liable hereafter IWT networks received little attention from the subsequent government.
An ADB report states, Bangladesh can raise its foreign trade with 20 per cent by obtaining efficiency and competitiveness in inland water transport logistic system. In ‘price waterhouse coopers’ (PWC)’s future economic projections Bangladesh books 23rd position berth by 2050. The Global Shipbuilding Market is also expecting growth recovering from their operational rearrangement mainly. The market expects to grow from $147.98 billion of 2020 to $158.18 billion in 2021 that maintains a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 6.9 per cent. The market is expected to reach $186.6 billion in 2025.
According to Banglapaedia, inland water transports are Dhaka, Narayanganj, Khulna, Barisal, Chandpur, Bhairab and Chattogram for over 45 thousand people daily carrying about 88 million passengers and 58 million tonnes of cargo currently. That linkage indications of national economic growth could linked to the international maritime network.
It is quite logical to develop a shipbreaking or shipbuilding industry in the greatest delta of the world and a riverine country. A country, which had once over 700 rivers and their tributaries, should have worn the landscape dotted with shipyards along its rivers, their tributaries and canals. This is the fate of the canals of Dhaka but not of Istanbul, Texas, Amsterdam, Port Said, Venice etc.
Putting BIWTA on Trial
Once High Court declared that rivers are living entity. Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority is liable to safeguard the river and canals. According to The Financial Express, around 25 per cent of the rural households had access to the IWT network. The sector is characterised by positive attributes like economy of costs, environment-friendliness, lesser propensity of accidents and lower maintenance cost. The waterways help maintain ecological balance in addition to supporting the growth of other sectors in the economy. Currently, around 88 million passengers and 58 million tonnes of cargo are carried by the IWT sector every year, accounting for nearly 50 per cent of the total freight traffic.
About 40 per cent of the nations’ foreign trades are handled by IWT through five Class I perennial river routes, day-night navigable throughout the year with Least Available Draft of the dry season. Passenger and cargo facilities are inadequate in terms of landing stages, storage area and handling equipment. Bangladesh can raise its gross domestic product by 1 per cent while foreign trade by 20 per cent if the inland water transport logistics systems are made efficient and competitive, according to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report dated back (TDS 2012).
Canal cities around the world
Canal cities are lucrative destinations for people across the world to settle in. Despite having 50 canals, Dhaka doesn’t pop up in the visualisation of leading canal cities in the world. Rather European cities like Venice with 118 islands and Amsterdam with 90 islands surface before eyes. Other canal cities Chinese city Sozhou, former Russian capital St Petersburg, German city Hamburg, Turkish city Istanbul, Japanese city Kurashiki, Thailand capital Bangkok, Italian city Milan might tickle a traveller’s mind.
According to UNCTAD, about 80 per cent to 90 per cent of world goods trade by volume is carried by sea that means around 753 million TEU containers are being handled by ships in tight scheduled and in this process geographical shortcuts like natural or artificial canals help reducing time constraints in global trade connecting oceans.
China’s “Grand Canal”, with an extension of 1,794 kilometres, alone is sustaining as an important means of transportation within the country crossing the regions far away from the cost for two thousand years.
The UK’s “Grand Union Canal”, with a length of 220 kilometres, is the longest canal which once was a great means of transportation.
India’s Indira Gandhi Canal with a length of 650 kilometers is the biggest canal which helps vast swathes of Rajasthan land.
Nara is the longest canal in Pakistan running about 364 kilometers. The canal runs from above the Sukkur Barrage through Khairpur, Sanghar, Mirpurkhas and Tharparkar districts to the Jamrao Canal.
Boghra Irrigation Canal is 155 kilometres long in Helmand Province of Afghanistan, serving to divert water from the Helmand River and the Arghandab for farmland.
Curious case of canals of two Muslim countries
As people always want to minimise the transportation time and cost, they look for short-cut way and cost-effective modes of transport. ‘Shipping’ is the answer and canals connect oceans, seas and rivers. Where there is no natural canal, people think of excavating canals. Man-made canals may bring smile to a nation. Countries, which are located in good geostrategic locations, are fortunate if they have natural canals used by international shipping lines. Egypt and Turkey are bridegrooms of economic and political powerhouses. Suez Canal in Egypt and Bosphorus Canal in Turkey have brought them good luck and revenue for respective countries as international ships ply through these channels. Turkey straddles between Asia and Europe while Egypt connects Asia and Africa. Strategically important these two Muslim countries got two elected Islamist governments — Egypt headed by the country’s first democratically elected President Mohammad Morsi while Turkey headed by Recep Tyyeb Erdogan who continues to be elected by popular votes of Turks.
When Erdogan is planning to dig ‘Canal Istanbul’ to decongest Bosphorus Canal and increase revenue when President Morsi is serving jail term when he could have a plan to decongest Suez Canal, digging another channel like Suez and hiking the revenue of his motherland Egypt. Egyptians could have rejoiced at the possible plan of broadening the Suez Canal and the Turks are doing.
Nearly 3000-year-old underground canals
We have come across canals which run on the earth’s surface. But Iran has underground canals. They are called qanat or kariz. Nearly 3000-year-old underground canals are a system for transporting water from an aquifer or water well to the surface, through an underground aqueduct. Constructed in Iran, Algeria, Morocco and other societies, this is an ancient system of water supply which allows water to be transported over long distances in hot dry climates without loss of much of the water to evaporation. The system has the advantage of being resistant to earthquakes and floods, and to deliberate destruction in war or loss of water through evaporation.
When one part of the world (Bangladesh) sees the disappearance of rivers and canals one after another while another part of the world (Turkey) is planning to dig a new canal to decongest the old channel and earn more and more revenue.