In need of water security

Rahman Jahangir | Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The World Water Day this year has brought into sharp focus the need for treating water issue with the high priority it deserves. This is more so because meeting the water needs of an ever-growing population of the country will be a Herculean task for any government in power. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hit the right chord when he said on the occasion of the World Water Day that he was concerned with the gaps that persist between cities and rural areas, men and women as well as rich and the poor. He also suggested for minimising such inequality through a provision of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene at home, school and at workplace. All of these together, he said, would inspire a healthy population and a sound workforce.
As early as in 1995, Ismail Serageldin, former Vice President of the World Bank had predicted that the wars of the next century would be over water. In fact, a shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future. Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon. The Darfur crisis grew at least in part from desertification, ecological degradation and a scarcity of resources, foremost among them water.
In case of Bangladesh, water insecurity will be the biggest threat or challenge at the national level as its vulnerabilities come from both internal and external sources. 
The other day, this writer was alarmed to see from the Kanchpur bridge the worst-polluted water of the Sitalakkhya River. Colour of the Sitalakkhya water is dark, not transparent as it was in the past. The Buriganga is almost dead with its black water spewing obnoxious odour. As other rivers too got polluted, the country became more and more dependent on ground water as a source of drinking water. Presently 86 per cent of WASA's drinking water comes from ground water. 
On the other hand, excessive use of ground water during the Boro season will have an adverse effect on the country's drinking water, warned the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Recharge of the ground water is not occurring as before because of excessive use due to widespread urbanisation. As a result, the ground water level is falling between 1-3 metres every year. For example, during the last 12 years, the ground water level has fallen to almost 34 metres, said a report. 
According to a study conducted by the Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC), in 1996 the ground water level was 26.6 metres below in different parts of Dhaka city which fell to above 60 metres later. If this fall of ground water continues, what will happen in 2050 when even deep tube-wells will be unable to strike water. For example, in 2001, deep tube-wells could strike water at a depth of 200 to 300 feet but now they have to go about 1,000 feet to get uninterrupted supply.
Most rivers today are silted awaiting dredging. These water sources are getting squeezed because of interrupted flow and are gradually becoming polluted. To meet the challenge, Bangladesh has good laws for environmental protection of rivers. Yet it does not have a good track record of enforcing these laws. The government must enforce the relevant laws such as Wetland and Open Space Conservation Act 2000 along with its amendment in 2009, to protect the rivers, other water bodies, wetlands from the polluter, illegal occupiers. It is a matter of sorrow that there is little implementation of laws in Bangladesh and even a government agency itself like BIWTA has violated court orders by erecting business establishments in land-filled parts of the Buriganga river at Sadarghat.