In many areas of southwest Bangladesh, freshwater aquifers have been contaminated by seawater, causing extreme salinity in groundwater
For those of us fortunate enough to have access to an uninterrupted supply of fresh water, its significance is often lost in the subconscious, never really appearing in the foreground of our thoughts.
We go about our day, never really imagining life without water given that whenever we open up the tap at home, freshwater seems to always come pouring out without a moment’s delay.
However, for people residing in Mongla upazila of Bagerhat, on the coastal belt of Bangladesh, it’s a different tale altogether.
There freshwater is perhaps the most valuable resource, even more valuable than food. Crucial for survival, a day does not go by that the coastal inhabitants don’t make water plans.
Lack of potable water is not new to the residents of Mongla. In fact, thousands, mainly women, have been following the monotonous routine of queuing up for water for drinking and cooking.
The second busiest port of the country is one of many areas of southwest Bangladesh where freshwater aquifers have been contaminated by seawater, causing extreme salinity in groundwater. This means pumping groundwater would only yield salty, arsenic-contaminated water, and thus deep tube wells are not a viable solution.
During periods of water scarcity, people would collect pond water to meet their needs. However, frequent storms and massive disasters, such as this year’s cyclone Yaas, caused cross-contamination in pond and seawater, making surface water salty as well.
This is where Brac’s climate change program comes to the people's aid. The program funded the installation of a reverse osmosis plant at Mongla Technical and Business Management College.
The machine, with the capacity to remove arsenic, iron, chloride, and other harmful microorganisms, is able to generate 60 litres of fresh water per hour.
According to Md Selim, principal of Mongla Technical and Business Management College, it is now being possible to supply between 3,000-4,000 litres of fresh water to the marginal communities.
Rozina Begum of Mongla’s Uttar Chapai village said she once used to collect rainwater in traditional clay pots. However, the amount of rainwater collected did not suffice.
“I had to walk a long distance to collect potable water as I couldn’t afford to buy water all the time,” she said.
Khalilur Rahman said he had spent 80 years in Uttar Chandpur village and there he only had wide access to nothing but saltwater. “Now, during my finals years, I finally have access to fresh water without any worries thanks to Brac.”
Fuljan Begum of the same area said: “We are poor and we couldn’t afford to buy water. And pond water is riddled with diseases. I’m happy that because of Brac, I’m now able to drink fresh water.”
Md Liakath Ali, director of BRAC's Climate Change Program, said the goal was to ensure safe water to the entire population of the upazila by 2026.
According to sources, the rising sea levels, withdrawal of Ganges waters from the upstream, uncontrolled shrimp farming in the southwest, high tides, lack of proper management and maintenance of coastal polders have led to increased salinity in coastal areas of Bangladesh.
According to a study by the World Bank, climate change is likely to further increase river and groundwater salinity dramatically by 2050 and exacerbate shortages of drinking water and irrigation in the southwest coastal areas of Bangladesh, adversely affecting the livelihoods of at least 2.9 million poor people in a region where 2.5 million people are already struggling with a lack of water.