Bangladesh Water Crisis
The WHO estimates that 97% of Bangladesh’s population have access to water and only 40% have adequate sanitation. With a staggering 60% of the population having to withstand unsafe drinking water, the nation is in danger. The availability of this water fluctuates considerably throughout the year as the hottest season brings huge amounts of water into frequent monsoons and the colder season brings drought. The infrastructure cannot adequately manage the burst of water in the monsoon season, so water is not spared for the driest months. Of the available water, over 80% is used for agriculture.
The great rivers (Brahmaputra, Meghna and Ganges) have all originated in other countries and the amount of water that eventually arrives in Bangladesh is severely limited by the rapidly expanding populations of China and India. Only 7% of the total land that creates the river basins of these rivers is in Bangladesh. Therefore, the Bengalis have very little control over the amount of water they receive from these sources.
Compounding the problem is the increasing salinity of water, which has many contributing factors. One of these factors is the construction of the Farraka Barrage, a structure in India that diverts water from the Ganges to irrigate Indian soil. This decreases the flow of the Ganges causing an increase in salinity. Salinity is also increasing due to the number of shrimp farms in various freshwater bodies. Climate change has also caused sea level rise, which is calling for precious water from freshwater river deltas. This increase in salinity affects the soil and the quality of groundwater.
Not only is drinking water limited, but even groundwater, which is used by almost 90% of the population, is contaminated with arsenic. According to the WHO, arsenic levels contributed to the largest mass poisoning in history, affecting some 30-35 million people in Bangladesh. Arsenic exposure can cause cancer and severely damage many integral systems in the human body. Arsenic has proven to be the cause of death for 1 in 5 people in Bangladesh.
As a result, the Bangladesh government is trying to improve the infrastructure to improve the capture of rainwater and access to safe drinking water. The contaminated wells have been marked to warn people to move away, but the painted tokens are fading and more than 100,000 safe water points have been created. New technologies for the treatment of arsenic are also being investigated by the Scientific and Industrial Research Council of Bangladesh.
However, to make a significant impact, the government must reinvigorate the arsenic policies established in the 1990s and change the maximum exposure amount from 50 micrograms to 10 micrograms (as recommended by the WHO).