Looking into water resource is from the security perspective
Riverine Bangladesh is largely dependent on natural sources such as water for living. It has 24,000 km of rivers flowing through its fertile land. Fifty-Seven transboundary rivers feed into Bangladesh creating the world’s second-largest riverine drainage basin, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GMB) Basin. Despite the abundance of water, providing adequate safe drinking water for everyone is a complex national problem. Climate events impact on the hydrological cycle and put additional pressure on the already strained water resources of the country. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the dynamics of water resources from the security perspective.
A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that “water and its availability and quality will be the main pressures on, and issues for, societies and the environment under climate change.” Low lying countries such as Bangladesh are likely to be hit hard by the environmental phenomenon, which will bring abnormal weather conditions, leading to severe water shortages and contamination. A study by World Bank also indicates that climate change will dramatically increase river and groundwater salinity by 2050 and create a shortage of drinking water and irrigation in the southwest coastal areas of Bangladesh – affecting the livelihoods of at least 2.9 million poor in the region where 1.5 million are already struggling for potable water.
Rising salinity levels are one issue of concern in Bangladesh, particularly in the coastal areas. The rising of salinity levels is primarily because of the lack of water flow in rivers. Being the lowest riparian country in the GMB basin, Bangladesh is highly susceptible to runoff from the upper riparian states with 92.5% of the countries surface water provided by out of the country sources. Therefore, challenges due to the dynamics of high-water recharge during monsoon and low-water recharge during dry season depend not only on the monsoon rainfall pattern and variability but also on the water management practices of the neighbouring countries.
In 2009, Cyclone Aila hit Bangladesh and damaged most of its water infrastructures and contaminated the surface water sources in the country’s South Western region. In the coastal area of Satkhira, tidal flooding, inundation by storm surges and salt-water intrusion has led to rising salinity levels in both shallow and deep aquifers, leaving most of the people dependent on surface water for drinking and cooking.
Besides, there is an alarming decline in groundwater sources as water quality deteriorates. Bangladesh remains the country with the largest proportion of people exposed to arsenic contamination in the world; aggravating water stress in the North as arsenic from the mountains seeps into groundwater poisoning anyone drinking it.
The use of Pond Sand Filter (PSF) and preservation of Khash ponds can be a potential way of combating the water crisis. The government already has a water act set in place to preserve the Khash ponds for drinking purposes. Various researches and scoping projects are being carried out in collaboration with Oxfam, World Vision and WaterAid to create a geospatial database to map out the Khas ponds in Shatkhira district. It aims to formulate a planning process by preserving these Khas ponds and mobilize the community for using these pond water for drinking purposes.
Water is among the most contested resources in South Asia. To ensure proper management, it is imperative that the existing gap in policy; lack of harmonization among the inter-government and intra government institutions are addressed properly. There are ongoing studies on water security issues in the Water Aid working areas of Bangladesh looking into the existing policy and gaps in the water governance issues. However, further interdisciplinary research and modelling techniques should be introduced to take a leap beyond the research and to put forward the research into action.
Sumaiya Binte Anwar is a Research Officer at ICCCAD working in the Urban Resilience Programme. She is a Civil Engineer and a Climate enthusiast. She can be reached at [email protected]