For those of us living in well-developed countries, clean water is accessible by the simple turn of a faucet handle. It can be easy to take for granted such a seemingly plentiful, yet necessary, resource when we don’t know where it comes from and need not worry about its supply and sanitation. In Bangladesh it is a much different story for millions without easy access to safe drinking water. What separates Bangladesh’s water crisis from other water problem stricken countries? Issues related to climate change are expected to cause millions more of Bangladeshis to be effected by the lack of clean water.
The ocean borders Bangladesh with a majority of its population living in the southern half of the country, where climate change is causing serious water issues for the residents. Many of the ponds and rivers in Bangladesh are becoming inundated with saltwater as sea levels rise and rainfall has decreased. Tropical cyclone severity is expected to increase due to climate change, causing widespread flooding and more water sources becoming inundated with salt water.
As more surface water sources of clean water are disappearing, engineers have looked towards wells and aquifers as alternatives to access clean water. In the 1970’s, around four million wells in Bangladesh were dug to provide clean water access, especially helping those living in rural areas. However, in the 1990’s and 2000’s, high arsenic levels have been found in many wells, rendering them unsafe to drink from and causing numerous health problems. The World Health Organization reported an estimated 30-50 million people in Bangladesh were affected by Arsenic poisoning. Ingesting arsenic can cause cancer and other damage many systems in the body. Finding new and sustainable ways of acquiring water other than just using wells is essential to the health of the people of Bangladesh.
The rapid depletion of ground water and misuse of water resources has also contributed to unsustainable usage of water in a country lacking much of financial resources to support more sustainable water projects and usage. The majority of Bangladeshi’s rely on rivers originating in India and China for their water supply. As populations grow in China and India and more water from these rivers is diverted for that growth and pollution in the rivers is increased, additional strain is put on Bangladesh to find new sustainable and adequate water resources. In the slums of the mega-city capital, Dhaka, millions of people not only lack clean water for drinking, but for sanitation and good hygiene as well, causing a myriad number of health problems. As millions more of Bangladeshis move to Dhaka in search of a better life, serious water projects must be taken by the government to sustainably provide safe water the people and prevent water borne illness related deaths.
If the Bangladesh government and other health organizations can team up to create more efficient and sustainable water projects, tens of thousands lives could be saved. Mangroves need to be conserved and grown in the southern river deltas to help prevent sea level rise. Proper sanitation and plumbing systems need to be constructed in Dhaka and its slums. Furthermore, cooperation with China and India to prevent pollution of major rivers like the Ganges would prevent many Bangladeshis from acquiring water-borne diseases. “Recharge” aquifers could redirect monsoon rainwater into their tanks to create a more sustainable way of harvesting ground water. As climate change causes more severe and noticeable impacts on essential resources like water, we must not forget to help the people who are hit the hardest. The millions people of Bangladesh are some of those who are the hardest hit, lacking the resources that can be so easily taken for granted.
Written by John Kurtz, ESLLC 2015-1016
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