Our attention was recently drawn by the media to findings that have emerged from groundbreaking research that has helped quantify vast reservoirs of groundwater across Bangladesh that can be of immense help in revolutionizing agriculture and food production.
Many Bangladeshi climatologists had been following the groundbreaking research by six scientists, five of whom were of Bangladeshi origin, for some time. Recently, senior researcher Mohammad Shamsudduha informed by telephone from London that a month ago, “Science”, a renowned journal, published his research paper on a large water reservoir under Bangladesh which is running out at sadness. The more water is pumped out of the “Bengal water machine”, as the researchers called it, the more water is pumped into it from the vertical and horizontal flow of fresh water from the surface and springs. water side nearby. Such mechanical dynamics are considered by geoscientists to be a very special gift of nature to the inhabitants of the Bengal Basin, a vast sediment-filled region on which Bangladesh and part of West Bengal lie. This led Mr Shamsudduha, a professor at University College London, to tell a local daily that this evolving scenario would help ‘further revolutionize our agriculture, as irrigation strategy could now be defined scientifically’. Apparently, according to these scientists, the vast underground reservoir of fresh water was created slowly over thousands of years by the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers which brought tons of silt and sediment every year from as far away as the Himalayas. to form the spongy soil of the delta.
Professor Kazi Matin Uddin Ahmed, who is a hydrogeologist at the University of Dhaka, observed in this context that this process, named “the Bengal water machine”, has not only increased water yields in winter, when ‘there is hardly any rain, but also helping to reduce flooding during monsoon seasons. Scientists associated with this research have also observed that an amount of fresh water of 75 to 90 cubic kilometers seems to have been captured and reinjected into the water machine from 1988 to 2018.
However, the research also revealed that such withdraw-recharge ratio is not so encouraging and consistent across all parts of Bangladesh. The rice-growing north is precarious. On the other hand, the west generally experiences less rainfall than the east and this reflects on the result. Groundwater depletion occurs in the west, but not so much in the eastern part of our country. Also, Prof. Anwar Zahid, Director of Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), pointed out that this water machine does not work as efficiently in the greater Dhaka area, major cities and industrial areas.
Such findings have led ecologists to insist on the need to use our available groundwater wisely and carefully.
Meanwhile, another climate analyst, Rafiqul Islam, revealed how people on the coast of Bangladesh suffer from various health problems caused not only by the consumption of partially salty water, but also by the fact that they have to spend money to collect this water. According to a 2019 study, people who consume salt water also tend to suffer from various physical problems, including acidity, stomach problems, skin diseases, psychological problems, and hypertension. It has even been blamed for early marriages because salinity gradually changes girls’ skin color from light to gray.
It must be remembered that the coastal belt of Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change and is hit hard regularly by cyclones, floods and storm surges every year, destroying its sources of fresh water. . Therefore, the freshwater aquifer is also affected by salinity due to sea level rise.
It would be worth pointing out here that Ahmed Zulfiqar Rahaman, a hydrologist and climate change expert with the Dhaka-based Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS) think tank, observed that if sea levels rise by 50 centimeters by 2050, surface salinity will reach the districts of Gopalganj and Jhalokati – 50 km inland from the coastal belt, accelerating the drinking water crisis there.
However, it is heartening to know that an effort is underway thanks to a rainwater harvesting plant from the Gender Responsive Coastal Adaptation (GCA) project, which is implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme. development (UNDP), by which women in certain regions of the coast are now able to collect drinking water thanks to the rainwater harvesting station. It makes their life easier.
It is worth mentioning here that under the project, rainwater harvesting plants have been installed in about 13,300 households in 39 Union Parishads in Khulna and Satkhira. Shyamoli Boiragi, a beneficiary from Shaheber Abad village under Dakope Upazila, said women in her locality suffered a lot from drinking water collection in the past as they had to walk one to three kilometers every day to fetch water. water. Now, thanks to this system, thanks to rainwater harvesting plants, women in certain affected areas do not have to walk long distances to fetch water. It also allows them to devote more time to household chores.
R. Loftus and M. Alexander who have carefully followed the various aspects of the impact resulting from the recent devastating floods in Pakistan drew attention to the recent meeting in Stockholm convened to mark World Water Week. They pointed out that for many international participants, many of whom came from the corporate world; the headlines about what had happened in Pakistan were a deadly reminder not only of the power and value of water, but also of the failures of the global system to manage it properly.
With COP27 taking place this month and the UN Water Conference taking place in March next year, business leaders, governments and key stakeholders must propel water issues forward. at the top of their agenda and address them beyond the boardroom. As a result, it would be entirely reasonable to say that they have often overlooked the important role that companies must play in ensuring sustainable access to water. The time has come for them to understand that a safe, reliable and resilient water supply is essential for most production processes as well as for the health and well-being of employees.
In addition, it also makes financial sense, because investing in taps, toilets and changing hygiene behavior is good for business. Installing clean drinking water and decent sanitation helps employees stay healthy. This means less absenteeism, lower medical costs, improved morale and higher productivity.
Directly and indirectly, RMG’s industrial units in different parts of the world, which have a large number of female employees, realize that such tangible benefits for the workforce and communities at large have positive impacts. Careful monitoring in some of these institutions has revealed that these facilities tend to increase, for example, how many jeans are sewn together, how much tea has been picked, how much absenteeism has decreased, and how much less companies have paid bills. medical conditions of their employees.
It has also been observed by Loftus and Alexander in this regard that their research suggests that “for every U.S. dollar invested in clean water, the apparel and leather industries combined earned a return on investment of $1.32 and the tea sector is projecting a US dollar. Against this backdrop, the analysts said that to “highlight the most notable examples – one of the ready-to-wear (RMG) factories in Bangladesh showed a return on investment (ROI) of US$9 for every dollar invested in WASH, while at one of Twinings tea farms in India there was a return on investment of US$5 to US$1 during the program pilot.
It’s true that some businesses may be put off by the initial capital outlay, but they should remember that while profitable returns may take a while, still inexpensive solutions can often deliver great long-term results.
It would also be appropriate for business sectors to remember that their workforce must have access to clean water to meet water-related hygiene needs. Their consideration at board level should not forget that during the ongoing pandemic, circumstances have reinforced the need for hand washing as the first and most cost effective defense against infection. Every workplace may be different, but it’s time for companies to put the well-being of their people at the heart of their business strategies and make water, sanitation and hygiene a priority. It’s a wise and smart way to sustain: for communities and businesses to thrive.
If business, civil society and relevant government authorities can mobilize on this issue, it will also facilitate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Muhammad Zamir, former ambassador, is an analyst specializing in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.