Severe water crisis within next two decades, say experts

Severe water crisis within next two decades, say experts

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Bangladesh will face severe water crisis within next couple of decades due to random contamination of surface and ground water, absence of comprehensive water sharing with neighbouring countries and mismanagement in preserving rain water.
According to water experts, although the whole world is seriously thinking of conserving their water resources for ensuring water security, Bangladesh is destroying its surface and ground water by throwing wastes in water bodies and over extracting ground water.They say as the origin of main rivers of Bangladesh is outside the country those rivers depend on upstream water to continue its flow and the country will not be able to address water related problems without integrated initiative with the neighbouring countries.
About 92 percent of the catchments area of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Meghna (GBM) rivers are located outside Bangladesh while the GBM river basin is around 64 percent in India, 18 percent in China, 9 percent in Nepal, and 3 percent in Bhutan.
It is estimated that the catchment area of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers is 12 times the size of Bangladesh.
Former UN water expert Dr SI Khan said the water dispute with India is as old as the inception of Bangladesh. It started even before Bangladesh when India’s ‘ill-conceived’ Farakka Barrage on the Ganges was built to divert water for flushing silt from the Hooghly river.
Bangladesh has unresolved issues with regard to sharing of waters of trans-boundary rivers with India. Although Bangladesh has 54 major trans-boundary rivers with India, there is only one water sharing treaty with India on the Ganges River signed on December 12 in 1996, he said.
“But, India removed the guarantee and arbitration clauses in getting minimum water from the treaty,” he said.
Dr Khan, also a visiting professor of BRAC University, said the Indian government has planned to construct a 163 meter high Tipaimukh Dam in the Barak river to divert water to other places in India.
“If India implements the project, the downstream Meghna river will lose its water flow and the country will gradually turn into desert amid acute water crisis,” he said.
About the random use of ground water, Dr Khan said generally, people in the country extract ground water through shallow and deep tube-wells for drinking, irrigation, household use, and other reasons.
“Water level of ground water decreases five meter per year. The water level is recharged four meter by flood water and one meter by rain water every year.”
He fears that if the water flow of the rivers shrinks for lack of adequate water in future, the ground water level will decline in absence of water recharge, thus forcing the country to acute water crisis.
Sardar M Shah-Newaz, also a water expert, said considering the climate change impact, ground water level will decline due to shortage of rainfall in the country’s northern region — Barind area — within 20 years.
“Although rainfall will increase in future in other places of the country, Barind region will turn into desert because of shortfall in rain and an acute water crisis will occur in the area,” he said.
Shah-Newaz, also director of Flood Division, Institute of Water Modelling (IWM), said the upcoming water crisis can be addressed by properly managing the rain water.
“Many countries have taken long-term measures to manage rain water for addressing water crisis, but Bangladesh is yet to take any comprehensive step to face the upcoming water challenge.”
He said although Bangladesh earlier planned to build barrages on three major rivers — Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna — those initiatives are yet to be implemented.
Chairman of National Disaster Management Advisory Council Dr MA Quassem said water availability in Bangladesh is around 90 billion cubic meters (BCM) during the dry season against the demand of about 147 BCM — a shortfall of nearly 40 percent, resulting in drought-like situation in large parts of the country.
“Water shortage in the dry season affects all water using sectors. Due to inadequate surface water, ground water is extensively used for irrigation and the over-extraction is causing deterioration of its quality,” he said.
According to a recent study, over 200 dams are to be built by China and India on the Himalayan rivers including the Brahmaputra and the Ganges to meet their water demands that will force Bangladesh to a big water crisis.
An India-based Strategic Foresight Group conducted the study titled “The Himalayan challenge: Water security in emerging Asia”. The study report was released on June 28 at an international workshop in Singapore on river basins management.
The study reveals that due to building of such dams, water flow of Bangladesh rivers will change in dry season and up to 22 percent water supply will decrease over the next two decades and the sea level rise may push Bangladesh to the risks of food insecurity, outbreak of water-borne diseases and loss of bio-diversity.
Himalayan river basins in China, Bangladesh, India and Nepal will face massive water depletion within 20 years, leading to a decline in food and mass migration, the study says.
The study also says due to natural reasons like glacial melting, the four countries would lose almost 275 billion cubic meters of annual renewable water in the next two decades, more than the total amount of available water in Nepal at present.
Water availability is estimated to decline in 2030 compared to present level by 13.50 percent in case of China, by 28 percent in case of India, by 22 percent in case of Bangladesh and by 35 percent in case of Nepal.
About 10-20 percent of the Himalayan rivers are fed by Himalayan glaciers and the study says that about 70 percent of these glaciers will be melted by the next century as a result of accelerated global climate change.
The study stressed the need for more cooperation between the four nations in the management of the river basins.
“What we are looking at here is a major catastrophe… going to happen in 20, 25 years,” the India-based Strategic Foresight Group President, Sundeep Waslekar, told the seminar at the Singapore International Water Week recently.
Around 1.3 billion people live in the Himalayan River Basins (Ganges, Bramhaputra, Indus, Yangtze) in China, Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
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