The Earth is the only planet in the universe where water is available in a substantial quantity. Water is an essential commodity not only for development of industrial and agricultural development but also it supports ecosystem, biodiversity, economic development, community well-being and upholds cultural values. Seventy per cent of the earth's surface is surrounded by lakes, rivers, ice caps, ponds, seas, glaciers, water or other liquid bodies. The total amount of water on earth is more than 370 trillion gallons.
Surface water, which is found in streams, lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and wetlands, is fresh. These surfaces are replenished by precipitation from lands and considered as renewable. Water is a renewable but critical, limited and fragile resource. It dissolves nutrients, regulates global temperature and removes waste products. Major natural stores of water in the hydrological cycle are oceans (97.41 per cent), ice caps and glaciers (1.9 per cent), ground water (0.5 per cent), soil moisture (0.01 per cent), lakes and rivers (0.009 per cent) and atmosphere (0.0001 per cent). According to different studies, 97.5 per cent water in the world is saline where only 0.03 per cent is pure to drink. We know, climate, natural crisis, sea-level rising and global warming are changing the total global scenario. The Third World countries are now unable to face these emergencies.
During dry season in Bangladesh, North Bengal becomes an arid region. It is tough to access pure water there. The people of this region, in particular women, bring water for household and livestock purposes from long distances. It is also a common sight in India and Pakistan of rural people bringing water from long distances where deep-water reservoirs are available. In Arabian region, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE have set up desalination plants which provide pure water and meet demand of the people.
Quality and access of pure water in Bangladesh is decreasing day by day due to rapidly growing population, industrial pollution, mushroom growth of slums, improper use of agricultural synthetic chemicals and pesticides, indiscriminate disposal of municipal wastes, poorly-designed flood control and water supply systems, drainage and irrigation works, lack of adequate regulatory measures and institutional setup for proper monitoring and control etc. While water bodies in Bangladesh are being polluted by agricultural pollutants, industrial effluents, different rivers are losing their life. Climate change is set to affect water table and the level of ground-to-surface water. Policies are failing to solve these problems.
According to Asian Water Development Outlook, 2016, about 80 per cent wastes are being dumped into rivers in Bangladesh. Water security index puts Bangladesh's position at the 44th out of 48 countries. At present, around 250 industries are discharging chemical pollutants into the Buriganga and Sitalakkya Rivers. Every day, 4,000 tons of solid wastes and 22,000 tons of tannery wastes are mixed with water in the Buriganga River. Contribution of different industries to pollution in Dhaka is as follows: pulp and paper - 47.4 per cent, pharmaceuticals 15.9 per cent, metals 14 per cent, food industry 12.1 per cent and fertilisers/pesticides 6.6 per cent.
In urban areas, groundwater, laced with harmful chemicals, is allegedly supplied to urban dwellers exposing them to health hazards. In Dhaka city, 20 canals out of 43 have lost their lives. Different projects like dredging of the Buriganga River by WASA, digging of the Daleshawari and Pungli-Bangshi Rivers and bringing water through the Jamuna River have been taken to reverse the present situation of canals and ponds in Dhaka city. But all these projects could not see the light of the day.
The government in its 'Action Plan for Poverty Reduction' has vowed to ensure 100 per cent access to pure drinking water across the country. But the real scenario is different. About 20 million people are suffering from arsenicosis, keratosis, melanosis and karato-melanosis which are called diseases of the poor.
The emerging situation even runs counter to our national laws and policies. Laws include the Water Pollution Control Ordinance of 1973, the Environmental Pollution Control Ordinance of 1977 and 1985 and Department of Pollution Control Ordinance. The Water Policy 1998 suggested environmentally sound water management in development and utilisation of water resources, construction of irrigation networks and embankments, dredging of water courses and taking measures against river pollution. Environmental impact assessment is required before undertaking projects related to water resources development and flood control measures. It is time to implement laws and policies effectively to ensure availability of safe drinking water in the country.
The writer, an environment analyst, is an Associate Member of the Bangladesh Economic Association