Bangladesh, the largest deltaic floodplain of the world, comprises unique geographical, physiographic and climatic settings with dynamic hydrological, morphological, landscape and ecological characteristics governed by the world’s three great river systems-the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna.
The country is known for rivers and floodplains, which support life, livelihoods and economy of the whole country. The economic growth and development of Bangladesh have all been highly influenced by water-its regional and seasonal availability and the quality of surface and groundwater.
Notwithstanding the socio-economic progresses, Bangladesh is facing fundamental challenges including maintaining macroeconomic stability, increasing energy supply to meet the growing demand, lifting the investment rate from years of stagnancy, improving competitiveness of the economy and achieving sustainable development.
For the coming days, the challenge for Bangladesh is to ensure food security and improve safety and living conditions for over 152.25 million people, while moving towards the status of a middle-income country. The development of Bangladesh can slow down due to natural disasters resulting in heavy economic losses, reduced economic growth and little progress in poverty reduction.
Already under the natural circumstances, water management in Bangladesh is a major challenge where spatial and seasonal availability of surface and groundwater is highly responsible for the monsoon climate and the physiography of the country. During the monsoon enormous amounts of water need to be drained out towards the ocean while during the dry season often there is not enough fresh water available. About 80 percent of the rainfall is concentrated in five rainy months (May to September) including the monsoon season.
The recent and future anthropogenic changes in the hydrological cycle due to the climate change and construction of dams and barrages in combination with an increasing demand for water will make future water management more challenging. In addition, pollution limits the use of water in many sectors and has a big impact on human health and the ecosystem.
The plan reportedly includes work to prevent salinity, and cyclone and other natural disasters. Bangladesh will reportedly need around 2.5 percent of its GDP every year to implement the Delta plan. It will need $29.6 billion annually for implementation until 2031.
The Netherlands, which reclaimed 6,000 square kilometres of land after implementing its own delta management plan, is reportedly helping Bangladesh execute Delta Plan 2100.
The initial projects will include 65 for infrastructure development and the rest for developing organisational capabilities, skills and research, as reported by the Planning Minister Mustafa Kamal. It is reported that the projects are expected to add 1.5 percentage points to the annual growth of Bangladesh’s economy by 2030. “This is the first time Bangladesh has taken such a long-term plan,” the minister told reporters.
The large projects like capital dredging of the Padma River under the plan may not end by 2030, according to him. “Project implementation will continue until 2100. Funding will be regularly allocated for these projects,” the Minister reportedly said.
The government is calling ‘hotspots’ the places that have been prioritised in the plan, reportedly said by Prof Shamsul Alam, a member of the Planning Commission’s General Economics Division.
Water scarcity is the main problem in the Barind and drought-prone region. The water table in this region has dropped to 70,000 to 80,000 feet under the surface, according to Prof Alam. The government is taking measures to reserve rainwater in the region for irrigation and other uses under the Delta Plan 2100, he said.
Sanitation and shortage of drinking water are the problems in the Haor areas, where the government will dredge rivers to reserve rainwater as well as prevent flash floods, according to reports by Prof Alam.
The hotspots of the Delta Plan -2100 include:
• The Coastal areas,
• Varendra or Barind and drought-prone areas,
• Haor or backswamps and flood-prone areas,
• Hilly areas,
• River and estuaries region
• Urban areas.
Water availability also depends on upstream flow, as 93 percent of the catchment areas are beyond the country’s boundary. The groundwater system is under a severe threat because of depletion of the water level and arsenic contamination (prevalent in 59 out of 64 districts), salinity in the shallow aquifers in coastal areas and the fall in the groundwater level due to unsustainable extraction.
In the coming decades, Bangladesh will be confronted with increasing flood risks, challenges regarding water quality, droughts and salinity due to the climate change. Proper management of water resources is essential for future development of Bangladesh.
Key elements of a strategy in this case include restoration and harnessing of surface water, entering bilateral agreements for sharing water of trans-boundary rivers, drawing up a river and canal management plan, increasing the water use efficiency and reducing waste, proper ground water management and water pollution management.
Implementation of the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 will guide and direct better-coordinated programme activities and priority-based development projects so that optimum resource utilisation can be ensured.
The vision of developing the Bangladesh Delta Plan is to achieve long-term sustainable socio-economic development and safety from disasters through adaptive water governance, based on long-term planning through analysis and scenario development as well as through integration of relevant policy sectors and creation of adequate institutional arrangements and capacity.
The government will lead the process of developing the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, in which the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 will be a guide on development of individual sector plans and implemented through development programmes of the different ministries and departments as well as non-government organisations. The specific objectives: The Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 has some specific objectives which are as follows –
*To develop a long-term vision of future governance relating to water, land and other natural resources and spatial planning for the Bangladesh delta by undertaking a long-term (50 to 100 years) analysis;
*To take into account the population growth with cross-sectoral development initiatives;
*To promote regional development in the future governance of water, land and related resources and spatial planning in the Bangladesh delta;
*To formulate a roadmap for policy development, decision-making process, and coordinated implementation of defined actions under the Delta Framework;
*To bring the institutional framework as well as the involved governmental organisations in the position to deal with framing of the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 and its implementation;
* To develop a Delta Plan documentation centre/archive in the General Economics Division (GED) to keep the related documents for future references and to monitor result-based performances and exchange knowledge with the concerned stakeholders.
The Plan needs people’s consensus and endorsement for such planning and its implementation. Consultation with the national to local level stakeholders (national, district, upazila and community level) should be reportedly carried out through workshops and seminars to have broader understanding of the structure of Bangladesh’s socio-economic and environmental settings and get feedback to enrich the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100.
a. An integrated analysis (50 to 100 years) of important development (thematic background studies) related to natural resources in the Bangladesh delta with a special focus on water and aquatic resources, river management, land use, spatial planning, agriculture, environment, biodiversity, disaster management, food security, socio-economic growth, spatial and ecological development etc.
b. An outline for an adaptive pathway in addressing the climate change issues and impacts, disaster management, future defence against climate change risks.
c. A roadmap for institutional and policy development, decision making and concerted efforts for integrated implementation of development programmes as part of the Delta Framework.
d. Coordinated and integrated institutional development and capacity building for formulation of new projects/activities in line with the Plan and the Framework.
e. Coordinated and integrated guidance for utilising development partners’ and IFIs’ assistance in more effective and result-oriented development of Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 will reportedly be a holistic long-term plan encompassing all the sectoral policies and plans in the country. The Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 will enhance institutional capacity and aid policy reforms to speed up integrated and cross-sectoral planning and development.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has already been signed between the government of Bangladesh and the government of the Netherlands on financial and technical assistance for the project. It is expected that the successful implementation of the project will result in an effective plan document for building a prosperous Bangladesh in future.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid, Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva