Beautiful Aerial Images of the Kaliganga River and an Ugly Truth
Jan 12, 2023
The Kaliganga River forms beautiful patterns and colors when viewed from above. However, when viewed from the ground, the patterns reveal an ugly truth about the falling water levels in all of Bangladesh’s rivers.
An aerial photo of the Kaliganga River in central Bangladesh. Most of the riverbed is now dried out, revealing patterned chars. Fishermen make use of the remaining water. This photo was published in the January 2023 issue of GEO France. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Azim Khan Ronnie
By Rebecca Duras
Had Azim Khan Ronnie stood on the banks of the Kaliganga River in the province of Manikganj in Bangladesh a few years ago, the picture he captured would have been very different.
In the 1960s, he would have seen big ships plying the waters as the river was an important part of Bangladesh’s water-based transportation network. Even in the winter, the dry season, the water would have been dozens of meters wide.
The patterned, colorful chars that are in the photo, published this month with GEO France, would all have been underwater because this beautiful photograph actually shows the dried-out riverbed of the Kaliganga, a symbol of the river’s ongoing ecological destruction. In the dry season, the Kaliganga River, not far from Bangladesh’s capital Dacca, in the center of the country, nearly dries out. The water leaves behind only a thin trickle of what was once a mighty river.
What Happened to the Kaliganga?
There are a few explanations as to why the once-mighty Kaliganga is reduced to no more than a stream for a good part of the year. One big problem is encroachment on the banks. Bangladeshi ecological activists from organizations such as the Bangladesh Save the River Movement point out that both the government and private industry build massive projects right on the river banks, ever since the colonial British administration began cutting over Bangladesh’s rivers to make railroads. Encroachment stops the regular flow of the water and makes the river difficult to navigate.
Another problem is poor water management on the government’s part. Activists decry the government’s outdated approach to river management all over Bangladesh, which uses a cordon approach that separates rivers from their natural floodplains. The Kaliganga suffers from improper dredging of the river soil, something the government keeps promising to get to but will not. Instead, corrupt officials look the other way as well-connected businessmen collect sand from the river for their own purposes, causing increased erosion and the build-up of chars.
Much of the water of the river has also been diverted to use for irrigation or other purposes.
Life Continues On
The Kaliganga is not the only river in Bangladesh suffering this fate. The country spans the fertile Bengal Delta and rivers have been the area’s lifeline. However, pollution, encroachment, and poor water management, including projects further upstream in India, have endangered the very survival of many of the country’s rivers. Some experts estimate that out of 13,000 kilometers of rivers in the country, only 3,865 km are navigable all year round. Activists and locals are raising the alarm that many rivers are in danger of dying.
For many of Bangladesh’s people that make a living from the rivers, the death of the river is not some far away concept but a reality. Farmers who had water right outside their homes some years ago now have to walk 15 minutes to the river. The water levels are not high enough to sustain irrigation in some places, and fishermen see their livelihoods endangered.
However, people keep pressing on, in part because they have no choice, and adapting in new ways. Farmers graze herds and plant crops on the chars. People continue to use the Kaliganga River for transport because water transport is still the most accessible and affordable for the country’s poor.
From high above, only the beauty and pain of the dried-up riverbed is visible. But from the ground, life continues.
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