Bangladesh is historically a maritime nation, whisch inherits a long history of water transportation, to be well-known as a land of rivers to the world. Three mighty rivers, named the Jamuna, the Padma and the Meghna, along with their numerous tributaries and distributaries, have become the most important network of water transportation in this part of the Indo-Pak Subcontinent, from the time immemorial.
It is also highly remarkable that the use of engine-driven water transportation started in this region, in the present Bangladesh, about 179 years ago from today, while ‘Lord William Bentick’, the first engine-driven water vessel was launched in 1834. And, quickly, a good number of mechanized water vessels started plying regularly, in the route set from Calcutta to Khulna through the Sundarban channel every year.
Of course, Bangladesh holds a long tradition and glory of water transportation. Water transportation from the time immemorial has been playing a vital role in influencing the socio-economic life of Bangladesh in different ways. Realizing these historic, socio-economic and commercial significances of inland water transportation, the present organization ‘Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA)’ was created on 31st October 1958, with certain aims and objectives to develop, maintain, control inland water transports and keep the waterways navigable. Since then, BIWTA has been working to implement its aims and objectives, possibly within its capacity.
Today, with the increase of population and their growing demand in different aspects, the demand of water transportation has certainly increased manifold. But, the truth is that currently, BIWTA is able to maintain only 6000-km waterways, although there are 24000-km waterways in the country. Still three-fourths of the potential waterways available for use across the country remain unexplored or unused. Besides, in monsoon period, the existing length of waterways reduces to 5968 kms and in dry season to 3865 kms.
Transportation in waterways is comparatively safe, secure, comportable, less-costly and environment friendly. So, Bangladesh needs to increase the length of waterways and create more infrastructural facilities in the IWT sector to fulfil the growing demand of the age. It seems that the present government has rightly realized it and already undertaken a good number of projects to improve the overall condition of IWT sector; and as per the initiative of the government, BIWTA Chairman Dr. Md. Samsuddoha Khondaker, along with his colleagues and development partners, is actively working to achieve the new target of developments and success in IWT sector.
This issue of The Guardian contains the articles of engineering and IWT experts and an exclusive interview of the BIWTA Chairman. All these valuable stories reflect the overall issues of challenges and developments, problems, potentials of IWT sector and the future plans undertaken for the sector, including the latest organizational capacity and limitations of BIWTA. Through these stories, it is also learnt that BIWTA, by this time, has made some remarkable achievements in different aspects of waterways, including the construction and development of infrastructures, dredging for navigability and the improvement of management activities of port system across the country.
In addition to these achievements, the government has also undertaken a comprehensive master plan for IWT sector, to address the overall issues of the sector and fulfil the future demand of the country. It is also learnt that BIWTA has been entrusted with the main responsibility by the government to implement the master plan; and BIWTA is now accordingly committed to address all the challenges and developments of IWT sector and implement the plan in full. We hope BIWTA must fulfil its commitment and forge the historic tradition and glory of water transportation of Bangladesh far ahead.