Climate change, deforestation and shrimp farming are increasing the salinity of the soil and groundwater in southern Bangladesh. Helvetas enables disadvantaged populations to collect rainwater in cisterns and filter basins to store clean drinking water for the dry season. Helvetas also demonstrates ways families can improve their diet.
The Ganges Delta, also known as the Green Delta for its high fertility, in southwestern Bangladesh could be a farmer’s paradise, where crops can be grown and harvested several times a year. However, climate change, deforestation of the protective mangroves and massive-scale shrimp farming have upset the balance of nature. Seawater is intruding further and further inland, exacerbating groundwater salinity. Helvetas provides support of the most essential kind for distressed farming families in the Bagerhat district, namely: drinking water and food.
Now that the groundwater has become more saline, rain is the only source of potable drinking water. People used to resort to dirty surface water during the dry season.
In our Panii Jibon (“Water Is Life”) project, we provide extremely poor families (with an income of less than $1.25 per day) two cement tanks, which are inexpensively made by local craftsmen. Modelled on traditional receptacles, the two round tanks can store 2,000 liters of water, enough to cover a family’s basic requirements during the dry season. Where possible and practicable, we also provide support for the construction of communal reservoirs with sand filter pumps. Over the next few years, another 50,000 people will be able to secure their drinking water supply for the dry season. 14,000 people will also receive new latrines.
Farmers are also building large rainwater basins to irrigate their fields and gardens. With this water they can grow and sell more crops, and improve their diet. The fish they raise in the basins are a supplementary boost to their nutrition. In the years to come, 35,000 families should be eating a healthier diet thanks to rainwater basins.
Another important objective of the project is for the authorities and the people to acknowledge affordable access to clean drinking water as a basic right. Helvetas trains communities to request that the government fulfil its duties and ensure that drinking water is available to all. In committees they participate in the planning of water projects and make sure they are properly implemented. Since people are organized into farmers’ groups, local development does not depend solely on individual commitment, but on support from the community.
Protap Mazumder, a tailor and father in Morrelganj, Bangladesh