South Asia

  • Sunderbans residents hit by rising salinity

    Amantha Perera

    07/10/15
[BOYARSHING] Rising sea level and frequent storm surges are increasing salinity in groundwater in Bangladesh’s Sunderbans forcing residents to buy fresh water.

In the village of Boyarshing, 300 kilometres south-west of Dhaka, Mizunur, a 30-year-old villager, tells SciDev.Net that the water in the ponds, deep wells and streams has become unpotable since 2009 when Typhoon Aila blew through the region. “Since then the water became really salty,” Mizunur says.

Mizunur’s family depends on his monthly earnings of around Bangladeshi taka 1,000 (about US$ 12). But he pays US$ 2.50 to buy potable water from suppliers who sell it in ten-litre cans.

His neighbour, 65-year-old Riysshath Gain, points to large ponds of water around the village but says that none of it can be used for cooking, drinking, livestock or crops. “When I was small, all of this was safe to use,” he says.

Afrif Mohammad Faisal, environment specialist at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), says that rising global temperatures have caused sea-level rise and increased the frequency of high-intensity storms so that salinity levels have increased in the Sunderbans — the largest single expanse of tidal mangroves in the world.

“People’s lives are closely linked with water here, and even minor change in the quality can be devastating. The rising salinity is no longer a minor scare, it has reached dangerous proportions,” says Faisal.
 
Rectifying the situation is costly. The ADB and Practical Action Bangladesh, an NGO, have launched a US$ 240,000 programme in four villages in Satkhira district that includes Boyarshing.
 
In this village 3.5 kilometres of pipeline and a new water pumping station have been installed to provide safe water for 1,500 residents. However, water is available for two days of the week and villagers spend at least three hours on each of those days lining up to fill their buckets and pitchers.
 
“Interventions are costly, but if not undertaken, can drive people deeper into poverty,” Fasial says.
 
An ADB report released in June 2014 identified rising salinity in groundwater as a major threat. According to ADB, rising salinity is likely to be an issue for 36 million people or a fifth of Bangladesh’s population.
 
The report said that with current levels of global temperature rise, Bangladesh would have to spend two per cent of its GDP till 2050 on climate induced costs.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.