Water Scarcity in Northern Bangladesh
Alice Mbugua, International Volunteer of Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) Bangladesh carried out a research titled “Water Scarcity in Northern Bangladesh” in collaboration with Gram Bikash Kendra (GBK). A national level sharing of the research report took place on 13 December 2011 with representatives from the government, NGOs, donors and the media. The research included 5 districts and 12 villages, looking at marginalized groups of the community and indigenous people.
Lisa Marie Faye
The major objective of Mbugua's study was to get better insight of water availability in Northern part of the country and to understand the effect of water scarcity in agricultural production and livelihoods. The paper also tries to identify ways forward to address water scarcity. Sabina Kishku (35), a housewife of Mahali para village of Parbatipur, Dinajpur narrated how they are suffering terribly due to water scarcity. She explained that her village stands in the downstream of the Barapukuria coal-fired power plant, about 8 to 10 km from where she lives. The villagers used to depend on a little river known as Tilai for their daily and agricultural needs. The authority keeps the thermal plant cool using underground water with 13 deep tube wells round the clock and there is a big concrete channel to carry out the waste water with certain harmful oils which fall into that river. The area also suffers from low rain, and 3 out of 10 tube wells are out of order. So in the dry season they use the waste water for washing, cooking, bathing and for irrigation. They also collect drinking and cooking water from a distant deep well or nearby para or village. The villagers have no idea about the waste water and they have no alternative sources of water either. The women, elder people and children are most vulnerable here and maintaining personal hygiene is very difficult. Social communications with other villages are becoming difficult because of the water crisis. Parents are facing difficulties in getting their sons married.
For the last few decades Bangladesh is facing water related difficulties like riverbed siltation, low water flow and a big dam made by neighboring country India. On the other hand Barind Tract has a different geographic character than other parts of Bangladesh and is 37 meters above sea level. People in this area used to cultivate rice once a year, but now produce various crops round the year. When people started growing more crops round the year, they didn't get enough water for irrigation. Consequently underground water level is going down as well. Water bodies in this area are going dry, river beds are filled in with sand, and water flow in the river is decreasing. In some areas, women need to carry water from long distance from deep tube wells for drinking and household purposes during the crisis period.
Among the groups observed through FGDs 42% said there is less harvest and less food available to eat per head than before. Some 8% people said they take only one meal a day, while 33% take less food than usual. In search of work, 42% of men migrate. People of this area traditionally used wells as a household water source. Twenty years ago, people stopped using these due to inadequate water from underground. Initially tube well water was available at 30ft-40ft, but because of underground water level going down, tube well nowadays need to be installed at excess of 150ft.
During the dry season, no water is found in tube well in Barind track and in most areas of Dinajpur. They sink wells deeper than tube wells and set up Tara pump which is able to lift underground water from a deeper level at 200ft-250ft. After some years, even the Tara Pumps are unable to lift adequate underground water during the dry season (December to June). The Barind Multipurpose Development Authority-BMDA is currently constructing water tank in the rural areas in this region to lift underground water by deep tube well and supply it to community households, at the cost of a monthly fee.
In her paper, Mbugua highlighted the need for trans-boundary river management and regional advocacy with neighbouring country India as a major immediate need. Most climate change discussions of Bangladesh being focused on the Southern part while the immediate need for attention in North a essential to protect it from future devastation. After independence of 40 years, Bangladesh should not fall into such a situation where woman like Sabina of Mahalipara village face critical conditions to access safe water. Where development and people's existence go side by side, policymakers really need to re-think national strategies.