WORLD Water Day was observed in Bangladesh last Wednesday together with the rest of the world. Water is too essential for life. Indeed, all life forms in this planet originated from it and continue to be sustained by it. Thus, the other name for water is life and Bangladeshis in the affected parts of the country very well understand these days the impact of reduced water supply on their life and well-being in all respects.
Bangladesh, historically, had been a blessed land in the sense of having more fresh waters that it could use. It forms the world's biggest delta and, therefore, used to receive good flows of river waters all over its territories as well as abundant rainfall in the wet season. But ever since the creation of the Farakka barrage in the seventies and other activities of putting dams across other common rivers by India, the water flows in the rivers of Bangladesh have been threatened. Large parts of Bangladesh in the dry season remain parched nowadays from severe shortages of waters. Not enough waters are found in the rivers to irrigate the land or for the purposes of navigation and fishing. Heavy lifting of underground water as a consequence to maintain agricultural activities is causing dangerous land subsidence in these areas. Besides, the signs of desertification and land degradation from the drying up effects of the rivers are becoming too prominent over vast areas of the country.
But things would not have been so bad if a proper water management policy was pursed over the decades. Pending settlement of river waters sharing issues with India, such a policy could substantially reduce the impact of withdrawal of waters upstreams in the common rivers. The water flows of the rivers present an opposite spectacle of abundance in the wet months and frequently the excess flows cause large scale floods in the country. Apart from the swelled rivers, the country also directly receives a great deal of rainfall during the long monsoon season. Therefore, water shortage are not observed in Bangladesh for the greater part of the year except for the short dry season. If the excess water that becomes available to the country -- specially during the wet months -- can be retained and prevented from draining uselessly into the sea, then the same retained water can be put to good use for irrigation and all other activities in the dry season when river flows turn very lean.
A barrage called the Ganges Barrage Project was planned 40 years ago the implementation of which would significantly reduce water shortages and such shortage-related problems over nearly one-third of the country in its south-western regions. It would work against the adverse effects of the Farraka barrage by storing waters in the wet season for releasing the same to augment the flow of the Ganges and its tributaries inside Bangladesh in the dry season and by reducing inward intrusion of salinity in these areas. It would save the Sunderbans and vast agricultural areas from salinity.
Apart from this project, a countrywide canal digging programme could be accomplished with the same purpose of holding excess waters of the wet season for use during the dry seasons. Ponds and other water bodies could be dug all over the country and also moribund ones similarly treated to create holding capacities for water in the wet season. The encroachments on the rivers need to be cleared and these should be also regularly dredged that would increase their depths, increase holding capacities and work against floods. Besides, there are many ways to catch and retain rain waters and the same are being done successfully in many countries. This process called 'rain harvesting' remains hardly explored in Bangladesh. Thus, it is imperative that all of the above means and more should be considered for implementation at the soonest under a carefully prepared and comprehensive water management policy.