Water is crucial to our lives being 75% content of our Earth’s surface and 75% of our body. Life also had emanated out of water. Importance of water can’t be underestimated. An essential commodity for our health and those of the plants and crops. World Water Day is an annual event celebrated on 22 March. The day focuses attention on the importance of universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in developing countries. The day also focuses on advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
World Water Day is supported by stakeholders across the globe. Many organizations promote clean water for people and sustainable aquatic habitats. Events such as theatrical and musical celebrations, educational events, and campaigns to raise money for access to clean and affordable water are held worldwide on or close to 22 March. According to UN estimates, about 17% of the total number of persons deprived of the right to safe potable water. Due to industrialization, amount of water, the liquid turns into the sediments.
In Bangladeshi context, water is one of the main concerns these days with the receding ground water levels in the Northern districts, where majority of our agriculture depends on the ground water. Dependence on ground water has increased several folds due to the receding river flows in the main rivers. Rivers are drying up due to upstream diversions so our farmers are depending more and more on Ground water. Their over usage has made the water levels fall 70 feet in some of the Northern districts including Naogaon, Rajshahi, Chapai Nawabganj, Bogra, Joypurhat and Kushtia.
The serene and tantalizing beauty of Riverine Bangladesh is a gift of its major rivers Padma, Meghna, Jamuna and Brahmaputra crisscrossing some 15,000 miles and creating one of the most fertile and largest Riverine Delta of the world. The heavenly spot on earth is made up of some 700 rivers crisscrossing the land from the North up in the foothills of the mighty Himalayas down to the South in the Bay of Bengal. The mesmerizing scenery of the winding river banks and the splash of the greeneries and the mangrove forests around have given birth to world class poets and writers, banking on the expression of its fabulous beauty strewn around. The sensational words of one of the greatest poets of our time Nobel Laureate Tagore wrote:
Clouds rumbling in the sky; teeming rain.
I sit on the river bank, sad and alone.
The sheaves lie gathered, harvest has ended,
The River is swollen and fierce in its flow.
As we cut the paddy it started to rain.
One small paddy-field, no one but me –
Flood-waters twisting and swirling everywhere.
Trees on the far bank; smear shadows like ink
On a village painted on deep morning grey.
On this side a paddy-field, no one but me.
Ganges being the third largest of the world Rivers discharging some 38,129 cubic meter per second makes up the most of the waterways in Bangladesh. The need for water is universal and Bangladesh is more so dependent on its rivers given its Agriculture based economic model. The beauty of the rivers in Bangladesh is fading steadily with the water diversions upstream on Ganges and other major rivers. River water is becoming a scarce resource during the lean seasons. Farmers are depending heavily on the extraction of Ground water for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes. With about 70% of the Water needs or irrigation and about 90% of the potable needs ground water is being pumped out. This heavy extraction is making the ground water levels fall to critical levels, especially in the Northern Districts.
In places like Dhamoirhat, Porsha, Sapahar, Kanshat and Nachol; Groundwater levels have fallen beyond 60 feet making paddy plantation quite impossible, where even the deep tube-wells are falling dry. People are planting mango trees now instead of paddy cultivation. This is a serious threat to the livelihood of the total population in the Northern districts. Moreover, the return from paddy cultivation is dwindling by the day, where one Bigha’s paddy plantation brings some meager 4,000 taka over a period of 3 months. Vast patches of chars on the Padma, Atrai and the old Jamuna rivers are affecting the fisheries. With the production of wheat, nuts and watermelons in the char areas, although a temporary relief for the char dwellers but are creating a panic in distant thunder. The chars are getting compacted and the river water is unable to remove the chars when the water swells during the rainy season. The river beds are unable to contain the water thereby causing floods and destroying livelihoods.
Figure 1: The dwindling Teesta river in Rangpur
Bangladesh has a unique position in the sub-tropical region, within the delta of three great rivers, covering an area of 14.4 million ha. In view of this important river system, inland fisheries and aquaculture are prime contributors to food security and employment. About 1.2 million people find jobs in inland water fishing; while another 0.3 million people find jobs in marine fishing. The fisheries sector is currently contributing 3.8 percent of the GDP. Fish provide 55 percent of animal protein intake in Bangladesh. Aquaculture development has been strongly promoted by both the public and private sector in an attempt to meet the need of fish for food for the country’s population of approximately 156 million. Annual production reached the level of 1.7 million tonnes in 2012, with 91 percent originating from freshwater and 9 percent from brackish water. The production is dominated by finfish (92 percent) mainly carps, which provide inexpensive fish for domestic consumption. Another 8 percent of the total production is farmed shrimp destined mostly for export market.
Bangladesh is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world and will become even more so as a result of climate change (BCCSAP 2009 and GermanWatch 2009, 2010, 2011). This vulnerability is attributed to its disadvantageous geographic location; flat and low-lying topography; high population density; high level of poverty; reliance of many livelihoods on climate sensitive sectors, particularly agriculture and fisheries. Many of the anticipated adverse affects of climate change, such as sea level rise, higher temperatures, enhanced monsoon precipitation, and an increase in cyclonic intensity, will aggravate the existing stresses that impede development in Bangladesh, particularly by inundating vast tracts of fertile agricultural land in coastal region, reducing freshwater water and food security (Huq and Ayers 2008).
We need to take immediate steps to manage our river systems better through rain water harvesting, dredging the rivers, creating new canals to link the major rivers and building dykes downstream to hold the river waters during the lean season and protecting the low lying southern region from the rising seas. Rainwater Harvesting is the direct collection of rain water and to channel it through pipes to pre-defined storage points. The rainwater collected is then stored & filtered for immediate use or for recharging the groundwater to be used later though bore-wells. We generally receive rainfall in heavy showers followed by dry spells. When it rains heavily the soil is not able to absorb water at the rate of rainfall. As a result most of the rain drains away, leaving very little for storage & the recharge of groundwater. This makes most parts of Bangladesh experience lack of water even for domestic usage. For groundwater recharge, specially designed recharge structures are used. Recharge systems are structures similar to bore/tube wells but constructed for augmenting the ground water storage in deeper aquifers through supply of water either through gravity or under pressure. We need to undertake the following projects immediately to restore our water systems and maintain our breathtaking beauty and our food security.
Figure 2: Rivers in the North becoming narrow water passages
Create a Prototype for Injecting Rain water into the Ground and redirect the surface rain water into the Ponds and Lakes. This project will collect the roof rain water and store them in large tanks through PVC pipes and making them available for later use for household purposes. Parts of the stored water will be injected to the Ground Water using porus injecting pipes connected to the Tanks and injecting wells. The current rain water is lost to the drains and then to the River Padma. These drains will be reconstructed and linked to various ponds and lakes in the City for later use.
Creating additional Rain Water storage Capacity by digging the large Bils and Connecting them by narrow canals. This project intends to dig 5 large Bils in the Northern districts doubling the capacity of water storage and connecting them by narrow Canals to keep each area in balance with rain water harvesting and their storage. The canals will be used for irrigation purposes during the lean season. The total length of such canals will be around 400 kms.