The world is thirsty | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 22, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 22, 2012

The world is thirsty

World Water Day" has been observed on March 22 since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22 as "World Day for Water." There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected to join by 2050. Statistics say that each of us drinks from 2 to 4 litres of water every day, however most of the water we "drink" comes from food: producing 1 kilo of beef for example consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat "drinks up" 1,500 litres.
When a billion people in the world already live in chronic hunger and water resources are under pressure, we cannot pretend the problem is "elsewhere." 30% of the food produced worldwide is never eaten and the water used to produce it is definitively lost! At present we have to cope with population growth and ensuring access to nutritious food for everyone. At all steps of the supply chain, from producers to consumers, actions can be taken to save water and ensure food for all. World Water Day focuses attention on the importance of freshwater and advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
Bangladesh's water crisis affects both rural and urban areas, and is a matter of both water scarcity and water quality. While commendable progress has been made in supplying safe water to the people, gross disparity in coverage still exists across the country. Latrine usage is very poor, averaging only 16% in the rural areas. Diarrheal diseases, which are caused by water-borne organisms, constitute a major health problem in Bangladesh, killing over 100,000 children each year. Thousands of cases of diarrhea occur in children and adults each day.
Bangladesh will face severe water crisis within next couple of decades due to contamination of surface and ground water, absence of comprehensive water sharing with neighbouring countries and mismanagement in preserving rain water. According to water experts, although the whole world is seriously thinking of conserving their water resources for ensuring water security, Bangladesh is destroying its surface and ground water by throwing waste in water bodies and over-extracting ground water.
Experts say that, as the origins of the main rivers of Bangladesh are outside the country, the rivers depend on upstream water to continue flowing and the country will not be able to address water-related problems without integrated initiative with the neighbouring countries. Water level of ground water decreases by five metres per year. The water level is recharged by four metres by floodwater and one metre by rainwater every year. If the water flow of the rivers shrinks for lack of adequate water in future, the ground water level will decline in absence of water recharge, thus causing an acute water crisis. Many countries have taken long-term measures to manage rainwater for addressing the water crisis, but Bangladesh is yet to take any comprehensive step to face the upcoming water challenge.
Water shortage in the dry season affects all water using sectors. Due to inadequate surface water, ground water is extensively used for irrigation and the over-extraction is causing deterioration of its quality. According to a recent study, over 200 dams are to be built by China and India on the Himalayan rivers, including the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, to meet their water demands. That will result in a big water crisis in Bangladesh. Due to building of such dams, water flow of Bangladeshi rivers will change in dry season and there will be a decrease of up to 22% of the water supply over the next two decades, and the sea level rise may push Bangladesh towards food insecurity, outbreak of water-borne diseases, and loss of bio-diversity.
Unpredictable power supply leads to disruption of smooth water supply to the city dwellers, who are reeling from power and water crisis during the ongoing dry season. In the capital, people are suffering serious waters crisis due to frequent load shedding, drastic fall in ground water level, insufficient water treatment plants and deep tube wells, and the situation is unlikely to improve in coming days unless the government comes up with a quick solution.
We have to be very cautious about every drop of water, or else one day will come when we have to say like that ancient mariner: "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink." We can't let our world become thirsty in the future.

The writer is Senior Lecturer, Dept. of English, ASA University Bangladesh.

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