Feature Img
Family on makeshift raft across flood waters. Photo credit: AFP/Farjana Godhuly.
Family on makeshift raft across flood waters. Photo credit: AFP/Farjana Godhuly.

Last year we wrote an article entitled ‘National Water Security Index of Bangladesh: What does it indicate?‘ to give an overview on National Water Security Index (NWSI) in the context of Bangladesh. Our article was based on the Asian Water Development Outlook 2013[1], which is a compilation of water resources development indicators in Asia and Pacific region published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In the report, the status of water resources development in this region has been presented as the National Water Security Index (NWSI) and comparison has been made between different countries. The scope of this article is to evaluate the overall water security status of Bangladesh based on this report. We will discuss the status of Bangladesh among South Asian countries regarding NWSI and also try to discuss room for improvement as indicated in the ADB report.

Where are we regarding national water security?

Let’s take a look at the status of overall Water Security Index of the Asia-Pacific region. According to the ADB report, no country has attained the highest index of (5); only two countries (Australia and New Zealand) have attained the second highest index of (4); ten countries (Armenia, Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taipei and Tajikistan) ranked as mediocre (index 3); twenty nine countries have attained security index (2); and ten South Asian countries including Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan have attained the least security (1). Average National Water Security Index for South Asian countries is the lowest (1.6 only) in Asia-Pacific region. In contrast, economically developed countries of this region have relatively higher security index than us. Correlating the National Security Index with the Governance Index of World Bank, it can be seen that National Security Index is higher for countries with high Governance Index in the region.

How do we improve our national water security?

Let’s examine ways to improve the National Water Security Index of Bangladesh as indicated in the report. As discussed earlier, National Water Security Index of a country is composed of five separate sub-indices, viz. as Household Water Security Index, Economic Water Security Index, Urban Water Security Index, Environmental Water Security Index and Resiliency to Water Related Disasters Index. It is therefore necessary to improve the status of these sub-indices to improve the overall status of National Water Security Index.

If we consider Household Water Security Index first, research shows that, Household Security Index is higher for the countries with higher GDP. First of all, it is necessary to integrate financing for water supply and sanitation to improve the status of Household Water Security Index. According to research, each taka invested in water supply and sanitation could save 5 – 46 takas spent in health sector, besides also increasing economic productivity. In order to achieve this, necessary financial and technical support, and perhaps autonomy, should be given to the organizations involved in the water supply and sanitation sector. However, the government should act as regulator to ensure the accountability of these organizations. In addition, investment should be doubled in the sanitation sector.

Economic Water security Index value is slightly greater than 3 in South Asian countries, including Bangladesh. This sub-index value is relatively higher than other sub-indices as government, non-government organizations (NGOs), and private organizations always ensure the supply of necessary (water) resources for economic development. However, some initiative should be taken to further improve this index. It was found that, every 1 taka invested in modernization of irrigation systems can increase rural GDP by 2 takas. Therefore, modernization of irrigation systems is a very important factor. Appropriate management of water demand and consumption is essential too. Moreover, policy directives should be formulated to reduce internal competition among water users. Impact of climate change on streamflow of rivers, impact of water allocation on downstream countries, and wetlands restoration should all be included in development planning.

Like the Household Water Security Index, the Urban Water Security Index increases with an increase in the GDP of the corresponding country. Note that the value of this sub-index is very low in South Asian countries. Urban Water Security Index value is 1 for Bangladesh, which is the average value of South Asia. The first and foremost work required to improve Urban Water Security Index is to formulate corporate governance. Later, essential investment should be made to reduce non-revenue water. Non-revenue water is the amount of supplied water,\ which is lost before reached its consumer, such as wastage of supplied water through leaks, or illegal use of supplied water through water meter manipulation. Furthermore, investment for treatment of waste water and controlling disposal of polluted/contaminated water to nature drainage system would be another initiative to improve Urban Water Security Index. Besides improving central flood management activities, incorporating integrated land and water management activities, and development of urban and regional planning are both considered as catalysts in improving Urban Water Security Index.

The value of Environmental Water Security Index in Bangladesh is only 1, which is the average value of the South Asia too. Let’s examine some statistics behind this low index value. About 60% of world population lives in South Asian countries which informs the lowest per capita fresh water supply available in this region. About 80% rivers of Asia have poor water quality which places a big question mark on the livelihood and economy of a country. Low value of Environmental Water Security Index is one of the main hindrances to the sustainable development of this region. Integrated development of water resources is essential for improving these conditions. The recently passed Bangladesh Water Act has clearly mentioned in its very first paragraph, that the act has been formulated for the integrated development, management, extraction, supply, use, safety, and conservation of water resources. Acknowledging the necessity of integrated water resources management is a big step, however, is it still unknown how best to establish integrated water resources management? Integrated water resources management can be achieved by managing the overall water resources of a river basin in an integrated manner. For example, river water is needed for irrigation and industrialization. However, that water should be withdrawn in such a way that is not harmful for aquatic species living in rivers. Similarly, polluted waste water from industries should not be discharged into river without proper treatment. In addition, investment should be broadened from both government and private sector for reducing water pollution and river restoration. Research shows that, every 1 taka invested for river restoration can return 4 taka as net economic profit.

About 90% of the natural disasters of the world are somehow related to water. It is a matter of concern that, South Asia and Asia-Pacific region are the two vulnerable regions for water related disasters and possibilities of resiliency to these disasters are very low in these regions. The value of Resilience to Water Related Disasters Index is only 1 for Bangladesh, which is slightly below from South Asian average (1.8). Research indicates that, this sub-index value is relatively high for countries having high GDP. Two initiatives should be taken in Bangladesh as well as South Asia to improve this indicator. Firstly, modern and efficient early warning system should be initiated for different natural hazards like floods, cyclone and storm surges etc. Note that, Bangladesh is relatively ahead of this initiative. The embedded video presentation below will demonstrate how mobile phones can be used to aid the early warning system of flood in rural areas.

(Video courtesy: Raihanul Haque Khan)

Second, post-disaster rehabilitation cost should be reduced. It can be achieved by taking some proactive initiatives before occurrence of these disasters (e.g., construction of rehabilitation centers to evacuate people and livestock safely). Otherwise, numerous disaster management projects may be undertaken. The aforementioned video presentation demonstrates how the early warning system aided by mobile phones can help local people to install fishing nets at the periphery of a pond to prevent overtopping of cultured fishes during a major flood event.

We tried to discuss the status of Bangladesh among South Asian countries in terms of national water security index by explaining its 5 different sub-indices. We also tried to demonstrate how to improve these sub-indices as indicated in the ADB report. It’s worthwhile to mention that some initiatives of the Bangladesh government are praiseworthy in improving its national water security, whereas some are quite disappointing. Let’s hope that the Bangladesh government is more proactive in taking timely action to improve these sub-indices for overall water resources development of the country. We should keep in our mind that sustainable development of a country depends on the proper development and management of its precious water resources and ignoring this reality will hinder the overall development of this country.

References:
[1] Asian Water Development Outlook 2013 (ADB)

This is the second part of an earlier piece, which can be found here.

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Dr. Zahidul Islam is a Hydrologist and Water Policy Specialist at Government of Alberta, Canada and Ahmed Zulfiqar Rahaman is a Professional, at Climate Change Study Division of Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), Bangladesh.