Our rivers are drying up because all the upper riparian countries are diverting water away from our rivers causing acute shortage of water and desertification. The day is not far off when we will have no water in the rivers. All the bilateral and international efforts to solve the problem are bearing no fruit.
So what should we do? Can we survive without water in the rivers? The answer is an unqualified “no”. With no water in the rivers, Bangladesh will eventually turn into a desert and we as a race will go extinct.
Do we have to wait helplessly for the fait accompli? We do not have to depend on the water that will trickle down the rivers after other countries have sucked out every drop from them.
Bangladesh is a blessed country which gets plenty of rain. With the exception of the relatively dry western region of Rajshahi, where the annual rainfall is about 1,600mm, most parts of the country receive at least 2,000mm of rainfall per year. But what happens to all that water? Most of it drains out to the Bay of Bengal. Can we not do anything to prevent the enormous waste of water?
Bangladesh is full of ponds, dighies, beels and haors which store considerable amount of water. But that is not enough for our needs. Moreover, many of them are not accessible to the farmers. But there are many dried out rivers and canals all over the country. Some of them get flooded by the water flowing from the big rivers and some do not even get that but get filled up by rainwater. There are no efforts to save this water which flows into the sea leaving us with virtually no water for the dry seasons. Can we do anything to save this precious water? Harvesting this rainwater is the only way to meet all our needs.
We have to create storage structures throughout the country. Perhaps the experts are already thinking about it. I suggest we build multiple dams along all the dried out rivers and canals in the country to harvest rainwater and create artificial lakes. It may be necessary to dredge them to ensure depth in order to make them capable of holding water which is sufficient for the dry seasons. The heights of these dams should be calculated to ensure that there is none higher than normal flood in the adjoining lands during the rainy seasons. They should be constructed according to the gradient of the rivers or canals. There should also be provisions to get rid of extra water.
Similarly, we have to create planned water bodies out of the existing ponds, dighies, beels and haors. We may even have to dig ponds within agricultural lands that have no access to water.
To make it sustainable the people of the country have to be involved in rain harvesting. We need to create mass awareness on the benefits of rain harvesting. People have to be trained on how to use the water from these artificial water bodies without harming the environment. They will also have to know how to maintain them. It goes without saying that these water bodies can be used for fishing also. Moreover, they will create a good environment for different kinds of flora and fauna. These water bodies will even attract migratory birds during the winter seasons.
Finally, let us not depend on the mercy of other countries for our water needs. The skies give us more than sufficient water for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing, farming and running industries. Nature's bounty is there all around us. Do we have eyes to see and will to use them for our survival?
Brigadier General QM Shahjahan Hafiz is a former director of Medical Service of Bangladesh Army and a WHO consultant.