Steps to offset fresh water scarcity

Publish: 8:39 PM, September 1, 2020 | Update: 8:39:PM, September 1, 2020

True, our country is seen as the biggest delta in the world. Normally, the rivers that flow through this delta land plus the ample rainfall in the wet season should ensure regular supply of abundant fresh water to it. But this has not been the case in recent years. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, the total number of rivers in the country is 310. But 117 of them practically have a dead or near death like appearance. This is because many of them have origin upstreams in Indian territories. Water flows on these rivers (such as on the Teesta without water sharing treaties with India) were diverted for various purposes in India progressively over the years with the result that their flows inside Bangladesh dwindle down to nil or very thin levels nowadays during the long dry season.

Needless to say, our government leaders must engage in tireless dialogue with their Indian counterparts to steer the latter towards reaching reasonable water sharing arrangements involving all 56 common rivers between the two countries that include some major ones. Not only reaching accords on rivers without treaties, even in case of one, the Ganges, in respect of which a treaty is in place, Indian authorities must be brought around to realizing that all treaty commitments must be kept fully. For example, in the previous dry season, Bangladesh reportedly received 10 thousand cusecs of water less compared to the amount stipulated in the bilateral contract. India says that there was less water at Farakka point to share which explains the lesser amount received by Bangladesh. There is possibly considerable truth in this stand but with more energetic persuasion Indian authorities could perhaps be made agreeable to releasing more water at Farraka point considering our relatively worse water related woes.

Surely, our present government has to go all out to secure water sharing agreement in relation to Teesta that feeds a large area in Bangladesh. This is not to say that the incumbent government has not done anything in respect of obtaining fair share of river waters from India. In fact, this government was able to click a deal on Ganges whereas there was no such binding water sharing treaty during its predecessors. Only it is underlined that it must be really resolved and set on a more dedicated course of action to get its water rights fulfilled vis-à-vis India through patience and understanding without making an enemy out of the neighbouring country.

While pressing India to respond positively to our river water sharing needs at the fastest, Bangladesh also needs essentially to address the suicidal activities that are going on in its own domain leading to virtual deaths of the rivers. For example, all four rivers–Buriganga, Balu, Sitalakhya and Turag-have dead sections of them in and around Dhaka ; their waters are like poisoned dark liquids without any traces of dissolved oxygen or aquatic life. From massive discharge of industrial effluents and human excreta in them, these are more fit to be called drains than rivers. But hardly actions are noted to save these rivers and restore their former cleaner selves.

The situation is the same in other parts of the country where the rivers are gradually dying from most irresponsible behavior of humans encroachments on them and completely mindless discharge of all kinds of effluents . It is no use blaming a neighbouring country for all our river water centric troubles. We must ask ourselves whether we are playing our part in the least to keep the rivers clean, spacious and usable on our side. This task brooks no delay and the soonest this is addressed comprehensively and effectively, the best.

Dhaka is the biggest point of urban concentration in Bangladesh. Overuse of ground water to supply fresh water to Dhaka is causing dangerous land subsidence and alarmingly falling ground water levels. The situation immediately dictates much greater use of surface waters of rivers. But the too polluted conditions of the rivers around Dhaka call for fetching fresh waters from relatively unpolluted rivers further away from Dhaka and supplying the same to the city after purification. Three major projects to this end are stalling which raises the danger of this mega city getting engulfed by a major fresh water related crisis sooner than later.

Like in Dhaka other places of the country also face the problem of overuse of groundwater. But rainwater harvesting, desalination plants to create fresh water from sea waters and supplying such waters on a large scale, these things are still like unheard of things in Bangladesh. But our policy planners would do best to realize the merits of such novel sources of fresh water at the fastest to prepare for the worse fresh water availability challenges to arise surely even in the short term.