Bangladesh River Forum 2018: Why and How
Though November 18, Sunday, 2018, is not marked distinctly in the calendar, we want to call it a special day for the river movement in Bangladesh. More than 120 river activist, researchers, experts, academicians, practitioners, from 81 'riverine' organizations from 63 river-region joined together in Bangladesh River Forum held in PKSF Auditorium, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh River Forum 2018 was the first national initiative of its kind. Its omni objective was listening to the grassroots movements, initiatives, and civil society organizations. Countering the currents of top down approaches of river governance, Bangladesh River Forum aimed to make a paradigm shift by prioritizing the activists on the ground.
No doubt that, we announced the Bangladesh River Forum 2018 within shortest notice. But we had been conceptualizing it for as long as two years. To be precise, our first meeting where the date, November 18th, was finalized had been held not before September last week. In fact, this program and process was envisioned and enshrined by Riverine People when we were holding the first National River Olympiad, our another signature program took place from October 2016 to July 2017.
No doubt that, we, with my colleagues and comrades, was determined to hold the River Forum within 2018 at any cost and ways. But there were at least two major challenges. First, as a mostly voluntary non profit organization, Riverine People had not the least required money or sources of money to hold a national event engaging more than hundred grassroots organizations. And, such an event was not part of any ongoing 'project outline' where Riverine People was involved quasi-formally or informally. Secondly, Bangladesh was waiting for its national election pending for last week of December this year. Once the election schedule is announced anything except political events was very difficult to hold conveniently. So whatever we wanted or could do the border line was middle week of November. During such a 'national' euphoric situation, when almost every quarter of the country is 'political, apolitical listening to the grassroots, the theme we had fixed for the river forum was not easy at all.
Fortunately National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) of Bangladesh and Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), an autonomous development agency established by the Government of Bangladesh responded to our call for collaboration. And, CNRS, GUK, Oxfam in Bangladesh, the partners of Swedish Government's South Asian water governance project, TROSA, cam forward to support the forum. Trio of the co-organizers had come forward for river-shake only. Such a forum was nowhere of those organizations annual plan. Riverine People was and is definitely grateful to them.
Besides challenges, there were some conveniences as well which derived us to announce a national event without even confirming the logistical support. First of those is Riverine People's alive connection and network among the river stack holders from grassroots to government. We were confidant that we could on board the stack holders within shortest span of time.
Secondly, Riverine People itself has been promoting community leadership on riverine issues from its inception. It has organized and nourished more than 50 river-centered initiatives across the Bangladesh. As Riverine People is inbuilt with the 'spirit of youth'- it has outfits in the universities across the country. So, inviting all the river related grassroots initiative at a confluence for a day long interaction in the Bangladesh River Forum was almost as simple as a matter of phone call.
Riverine People already has the experience of organizing national level events like National River Olympiad, the general knowledge competition for the graduate level students; National River Camp, for young river researchers; River Basin-wise workshop for the CSOs. As the member of couples of international river and water networks, Riverine People has collaboratively organized several international and regional events.
As we stated in our concept note on Bangladesh River Forum, it was designed to be the launch-pad for grassroots organizations-led effective community stewardship of rivers in Bangladesh. During the forum participants would be engaged in intensive and interactive reflections about how to secure and sustain greater public-engagement for watershed-based participatory river conservation.
By this forum, we wanted, grassroots movements, civil society organizations, community based organizations, youth-led or youth-based organizations focused on conservation of rivers, and rights of riparian communities would know each other; would share their expectation and experiences. They would know about the challenges and opportunities in river movement. By the discussion and sharing among CSOs, NGOs, GOs and policy makers, a way forward for the river movements of Bangladesh would be visible on the horizon, Riverine People believed.
We are happy that we have made it done. Most importantly, it is the beginning of a collective river. The participants have repeatedly vowed to be together again, possibly in every year to share their experience, knowledge, expectations, challenges, and of course love for rivers. The guests, co-organizers, development partners, representatives from govt. agencies and departments have been encouraged and enthusiastic to meet the grassroots again and again.
We hope to meet them all again in this interesting and insightful program and process we have started collectively, definitely.
Sheikh Rokon: writer and researcher; Secretary General and founder of the Riverine People