Bangladesh’s Water Challenges
Bangladesh faces immense challenges in the water sector due to population increase, land use changes, surface water pollution, upstream withdrawal of water, and climate change. Because of its largely flat geography and seasonal variability of surface water, the country is highly dependent on groundwater resources. Agriculture, for example, Bangladesh’s largest employment sector, accounts for 80% of water use, of which 75% is extracted from groundwater. However, arsenic, salinity, and pollution levels are increasing, compounded by sharp declines in the groundwater table. This poses a threat to the sustainability and reliability of groundwater use.
The country’s growth forecast predicts a doubling of domestic water demand by 2030, a 200% increase in industrial demand, and an over 46% increase in irrigation water demand. It is apparent that in a business-as-usual scenario, the demand for water will exceed available groundwater resources by 40% in the dry seasons. These challenges are exacerbated by legislative gaps, policy overlaps, and sometimes inadequate institutional capacity, which make it extremely difficult to govern the country’s water resources.
Approach and Results
2030 WRG acts as the Secretariat to the Bangladesh Water Multi-Stakeholder Partnership (BWMSP), a quasi-legal entity that focuses on improving water resources management in the industrial, municipal, and agricultural sectors. Multiple projects and studies have been initiated through four main workstreams: Agricultural Water, Water Governance and Sustainability, Greater Dhaka Watershed Restoration, and Industrial Water and Wastewater workstream.
As part of an ambitious project to monitor water quality around Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka, 20 advanced, IoT-enabled monitoring stations will be installed in four major rivers. The goal is to monitor pollution in real time, improve laboratory capacity, and share results via a user-friendly, public-access website.
The BWMSP is also conducting a study on the use of shadow prices to identify the true value of water with the goal of facilitating more informed decision-making about future water investments. Under the Agricultural Water Workstream, the Water Efficient Technologies (IWET) project has worked with 6,000 Bangladeshi farmers to save 3.6 million cubic meters of water by upgrading to drip irrigation.
Other initiatives include a recent nationwide Covid-19 response project, managing aquifer recharge, operationalizing water-resilient projection practices, and improving fecal sludge management practices at the household level.
The National Steering Board of the BWMSP comprises high-level stakeholders from the public and private sectors and civil society. Representation from the public sector includes the Cabinet Secretary, the Principal Secretary, and representatives from various government ministries that deal with water resources, including the Ministry of Water, Ministry of Industries, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Land, Ministry of Shipping, and Ministry of Agriculture. In addition to national government agencies, stakeholders from the public sector include local government officials.
Representation from the private sector includes Mr. Mahbubur Rahman, President of the International Chamber of Commerce, who co-chairs the Steering Board and other key agencies such as the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, as well as multinationals such as Coca-Cola and Nestlé.
Civil society partners include organizations such as BRAC and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.