Climate change makes water management in Bangladesh increasingly difficult Yesterday, 20:18 in Abroad Heat, drought and salinization are the main problems in the nearly 140 polders of Bangladesh. There is hardly any rain in the monsoon.

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Begum Hafeeza has to drink salty groundwater
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  • Aletta Andre

    Indian correspondent

“There is a shortage of fresh water in this area, especially in winter and spring,” says farmer Ishabur Rahman. He lives in the village of Katiadangla in southwest Bangladesh, in one of the country’s 139 polders. The village is about a hundred kilometers from the sea, but the water of the river Kazibacha next to the polder is salty. The groundwater here has also been getting saltier every day for years.

So the farmers in the polder are dependent on rainwater. But that is becoming less and less common, says Rahman. “Growing up, I learned about the six seasons of Bangladesh. Now there are only two seasons left: summer and winter. There is hardly any rain in the monsoon.”

Heat, drought and salinization are the main problems. The polder in which Rahman was born, polder 30, was constructed between 1967 and 1972. Throughout Bangladesh, the polders have protected people from flooding from cyclones and tidal waves. Also here.

“Without the polder, this whole area would be constantly flooded and uninhabitable,” said Krishna Pod Das, an engineer from the local government of Khulna district. The polders have enabled agriculture in many places and thus contributed to economic growth.

Farmer Ishabur Rahman

But climate change brings new challenges. Due to the rise in sea level, the salty seawater is moving further and further inland. And where it rains less, as farmer Rahman says, the salt water can hardly be filtered. According to engineer Das, it will also be more difficult to keep the polder dry. “The rivers are becoming increasingly full, so that the existing design of the dikes and locks cannot cope with the water level.”

Das shows a relatively new lock, which was built between 2019 and 2021 under a program funded by the Netherlands, Blue Gold. “When it rains, the sluice opens to let in the fresh water and store it in a dug canal. The sluice keeps the salt water outside the polder during the dry season, like now.”

In theory, that is, because up close you can see how some water seeps in. “The rubber seal is not on properly,” explains Das. It is difficult to maintain all the waterworks in the polders, he says. “The government has a limited budget, so we can’t do everything that is necessary. Some problems remain unsolved.”

Krishna Pod Das

In other places in the polder, it has been decided to adapt to the salt water. Farmers are helped with the transition to crops that can grow in salt water. Less money is needed for that.

Drinking water does require technical solutions: purification plants are being installed in more and more places, and people are also being helped with rainwater tanks. Because drinking salt water is bad for your health. Research showed that in this region more women get preeclampsia, and as a result also develop high blood pressure and heart problems.

In the local clinic of the town of Dacope, a woman is lying with preeclampsia. She is eight months pregnant, says the nurse. Her fellow villager Begum Hafeeza says that they have no choice but to drink the salty groundwater. “We received a rainwater tank from an NGO. But it runs out during the dry season. We don’t have a purification plant nearby.”

Drink salty ground water

For this reason, farmer Rahman has installed a water pump with a motor, so that he can pump up fresh water from a depth of about a hundred metres. It’s not cheap, but his whole family benefits and so do his crops.

“It’s gotten better thanks to the lock,” he says. “But there isn’t enough rain, that’s why I have this pump.” Even that is not the end of his worries. “It’s so hot, I’m expecting less crops because of it,” he says, inspecting his watermelon and rice plants. “Not only me, but all the farmers here are concerned.”

In collaboration with Redwan Ahmed

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