Climate change and increased demand in urban areas is stressing drinking water supplies in Bangladesh, according to a new World Bank study. Twenty percent (28 million) people are living in areas of the country where it is difficult to find fresh drinking water, sometimes having to walk many miles in order to reach potable water supplies.

Residents of these areas are vulnerable to a variety of climate- and weather-related problems. Those who live in coastal areas are experiencing a large increase in salinity in their water supplies – a direct result of climate change. 

pic: Eleanor Church/ CAFOD, October 2012

From the Thomas Reuters Foundation:

Experts expect the struggle to find potable water to intensify during the summer. Shareful Hassan, a consultant on geographic information systems and a researcher on the World Bank study, says surface water sources have already dried up in many parts of the country, which will have a heavy impact on access to drinking water, sanitation and ecosystems.

Stresses on groundwater in Dhaka are also causing seawater to leak into the city’s aquifers. Rainfall has become less predictable and halved overall over the past five years. Lack of drinking water is one of the complaints being levelled regarding how sweatshop workers, like the ones who recently perished in Dhaka, are treated. Though this was down to unfair labor conditions, a general fresh water crisis means that those at the bottom of the social ladder will suffer even more.

While there is little hope of preventing climate change from further escalating dangerous conditions in Bangladesh, strategies are focusing on adaptation. Extreme weather events are expected to worsen in the coming years and poor nations like Bangladesh do not have the capacity to cope with them.

Under the leadership of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a National Climate Change Trust Fund of US$350 million has been established – a paltry sum for a country so large facing a threat so severe.

At the 2013 Community Climate Adaption Summit in Dhaka, Hasina expressed her frustration with the limited aid Bangladesh has received from developed nations, whose long time industrialization has been the historical driver of climate change.

She is quoted in Responding to Climate Change:

The rich countries must demonstrate their leadership in this matter. More delay in mitigation will mean greater need for adaptation and more suffering for the communities and the poor of the world.

It’s difficult for the people of many countries like Bangladesh to face the double burden of poverty and impacts of climate change. It’s not only difficult for us, but also unfair and unjust.

For the sake of sustainability of environment and development, we need to act now without delay, individually, locally, nationally, regionally and globally. This needs to be addressed at the highest priority.

–PM Sheikh Hasina

pic: Md. Abdul Quayyum/Oxfam