Salinity-rise raises concerns about groundwater

The Daily Star September 29, 2012

Saltwater intrusion is threatening the groundwater system of the capital as the level of the groundwater here has gone 170 feet below the sea level due to unplanned extraction.

Along with the central region, the northern part of the country is also going to face the same problem due to excessive use of groundwater for irrigation, according to a group of local researchers.

The researchers yesterday revealed their findings at a press conference in the Dhaka Reporters Unity auditorium. They recommended saving water bodies including rivers, canals, marshland (bil) and other surface water sources.

The groundwater in the coastal areas of southern Bangladesh has already become salty. Now it is intruding northwards as excessive extraction of groundwater is creating vacuum in the groundwater system, said irrigation and groundwater expert Iftekhar Alam.

He said rain recharges groundwater but here the rate of extraction was greater than the natural recharging.

The level of groundwater has dropped 18 to 20 feet below the sea level in Rajshahi, the northern metropolis, said Iftekhar, adding that the country extracts almost 80 percent water for irrigation from below the ground.

“We can grow Boro rice more as it requires less irrigation. The yield can be the same as Irri rice and the move will significantly save groundwater,” Iftekhar said.

Almost six crore people of the southern part of the country are suffering from salinity problem.

According to Iftekhar, if the problem is not dealt with properly the number of saltwater victims would increase.

Present at yesterday’s press conference, Prof Firoz Ahmed of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) said use of groundwater in irrigation decreased land fertility. He stressed using surface water source for the purpose.

Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) organised the press conference. Eminent groundwater expert Prof Mollah Azfarul Haque spoke on the occasion, among others.

SM Shajahan, president of Bapa and also former adviser to a caretaker government, was present at the press briefing as the chief guest while Bapa Secretary Abdul Matin delivered the welcome speech.