Goal-6 of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has mentioned about ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. Goal 6.3 mentioned about improving water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated waste water and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
A recent mapping exercise of ministries by targets in the implementation of SDGs aligning with 7th FYP has targeted some activities for implementation within the on-going plan period, of which efficient water supply facilities in the urban areas, reducing dependence on ground water and improving surface water quality, setting up of water treatment plant, etc., are important tasks to be taken up by the Local Government Division as a lead organisation and Ministry of Environment and Forests as co-lead.
Water resource management was not initially in the priority agenda of the government, but now initiatives are coming up in this respect. Although a water-abundant country, slack regulations are the main impediments to water resource management in Bangladesh.
A recent report says that 97 per cent of the total water in the world is saline water, only 2.5 per cent is fresh water, of which 30.1 per cent is sourced from underground, 76.7 per cent from glacier and ice-berg, 0.3 per cent from surface and 0.9 per cent from other sources of sweet water. Of the 0.3 per cent of the surface water, 2.0 per cent is found in rivers, and the rest in lakes and water bodies. Most of the water in Bangladesh comes from underground source. So, there is a serious need for policy shift for improving the quality of surface water for increasing its use given the acute ground water depletion in the country.
Like many countries in the world, Bangladesh is no exception to the threat of water scarcity. The country has to cope with both extremes of water security, too much water in the wet season and too little in the dry season. In addition, Bangladesh gets more than 90 per cent of its water from trans-boundary rivers. During the dry season, the volume of water reaching Bangladesh is ever decreasing due to up-stream water withdrawal by the upper-riparian countries. The situation is further aggravated by unplanned urbanisation and industrialisation which combine with over dependence as well as excessive use of ground water for irrigation. Gaining water efficiency and water productivity is a critical issue to sustain our agricultural productivity to feed an ever growing population at the same time continuing industrialization as per targeted growth.
Industrial water use is predicted to double from 0.09 BCM (billion cubic meter) in 2011 to 0.18 BCM in 2030 as per a presentation organised by 2030 Water Resource Group. Discharge of untreated industrial waste water has been contributing to severe water pollution problems while groundwater extraction by industrial units leads to depleting aquifer. Water deficit in dry season will be up to 26 per cent by 2030 due to water availability, limited storage and water quality issues. Textile industry which is expected to grow to $50 billion in 2021 is one of the leading consumers of water and it consumes about 3.2 per cent of total consumptions of industrial water. The used water containing various constituents such as dyes and chemicals is directly released into the sources of water resulting in water pollution. Another booming export sector leather and leather goods industry also uses a significant amount of water. Efficient water management policy is one of the pre-requisites ensuring water security and safety for all.
To improve compliance to wastewater regulations by the industrial sector and to create a level playing field by compliant industries, it is important that proper policies are designed and put in place. Also, scarcity or falling ground water levels in certain parts of the country calls for appropriate valuation mechanism to ensure effective use of this scarce resource towards maximum socio-economic benefits. This intervention will initially need to create an inventory of existing incentives provided for water use and wastewater treatment to create the baseline. This baseline will need to be measured against international best practices to understand opportunities for improvements. This intervention will also create a methodology to systematically conduct water valuation based on availability, competing interests and other relevant parameters.
Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD), in cooperation with UNDP had initiated a study during August-November, 2016 on How Private Sector can do Business without Polluting Water: A Case of Ready Made Garments (RMG).The scope of the study was to consult with the important stakeholders of this sector to explore the water use pattern, its environmental impact and find out ways to reduce pollution. A significant portion of the sector involving washing, dyeing and finishing (WDF) relies on a large quantity of water, chemical and energy. One of the positive things that came up in the study revealed that a significant number of WDF plants is now under close scrutiny and a number of them have reached the level of international benchmark.
Initial findings of the report show that four important ministries and their allied organisations are responsible for water related policies and supervise the regulatory issues. These are: Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (LGRD), Ministry of Environment and Forests and Ministry of Industries. Among these, Ministry of Industries is least involved in industrial water management. There is obviously a lack of coordinated approach among the relevant ministries.
The country does not have any policy regarding use of chemicals. As a result, it is difficult to put a check on the use of harmful chemicals -- imported or locally produced. A strict policy in this regard is critically important. Some of the existing policies to govern water resources, such as Water Act 2013, Water Policy 1999 also need to be re-visited. Big firms and organisations should also be forthcoming in this regard as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).
The writer is CEO, Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD).