Different uses of Surface and Groundwater in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the largest deltaic country in the world. The country is drained by the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna and is crisscrossed by a large network of rivers. Possessing a tropical monsoon climate, its water resources are abundant on both the surface and underground. Let’s know in detail the uses of surface and groundwater in Bangladesh.

The surface water resources are the rivers, as well as still water bodies like ponds, bells, and haors. The groundwater is the water held within the pore spaces of rocks etc. under the ground. A detail description regarding different uses of surface and groundwater in Bangladesh are given below:

Uses of surface and groundwater
Uses of Surface and Groundwater

Uses of surface and groundwater

Water is needed for consumptive needs and non-consumptive needs. Consumptive needs are those in which the water is used for drinking or irrigating crops for example. Non-consumptive needs are those where water is needed, but not consumed.

Water is a very scarce resource in Bangladesh during the dry months of the year (February to April) and the maximum water demand occurs in March.

Gross water demand is based on irrigation requirements, salinity control in the estuaries, fisheries, inland navigation, and domestic and industrial uses. There are about 7.56 Mha (million hectares) of cultivable land. It is anticipated that about 6.9 Mha of agricultural land will be brought under irrigation by 2018.

A greater amount of surface water flows through Bangladesh into the Bay of Bengal than is needed for all the consumptive and non-consumptive needs. However, there are no opportunities for surface water storage and little scope for gravity diversion without any barrages on the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.

Use of water for irrigation

Irrigation is the term used to describe the artificial water supply to agricultural land by means of dams, channels, or other devices. At present, the widespread use of both shallow and deep tube wells for irrigation takes place during the months of November to March.

Some useful irrigation devices are:

  • Motorized pumps, such as shallow or deep tube wells, are used to lift groundwater from below the surface. Low-lift pumps are used to pump surface water.
  • Manual pumps (non-mechanical) include don, swing basket, treadle pump, hand tube well, hand sprinkler, diaphragm pump, and tubes.
  • Treadle pumps are an appropriate technology for small farmers, and such pumps have increased the land area that can be used for the cultivation of crops in the dry winters in the north of the country.

Bangladesh has become increasingly dependent on groundwater sources for irrigation needs. Farmers have to use groundwater in the winter to grow Boro rice when there are little rainfall and the local water bodies dry up. Transboundary flows of rivers are also diminishing at an alarming rate due to increased demands from the countries neighboring Bangladesh.

Use of water for hydro-electric power

To set up a hydro-electric power station, a hilly topography with heavy rainfall and a fast-flowing river is the necessary physical conditions. This involves the construction of a water reservoir by building a dam across a river to obtain the required water head for driving a turbine.

The scope of hydropower generation is very limited in Bangladesh because of its low and flat topography, except for some parts of the north-east and southeast and some highlands in the north and north-western parts.

Currently, the only hydro-electric power station in the country is the Karnafuli Hydro Power station, located in Kaptai (Rangamati District) across the river Karapuli. The river is fed by rainfall and spring water. This station has a generation capacity of 230 MW.

A number of feasibility studies carried out in the 1980s revealed that 15 rivers have the potential for siting mini-hydro power stations of 10 kW to 100 kW capacity.

It was thought that water resources in the areas of Chittagong and Bandarban, Sylhet-Moulvibazar, Mymensing-Sherpur, and Dinajpur-Rangpur could generate a total amount of 1,156,320 kW of electricity per year.

Use of water for transport

Bangladesh is the world’s largest deltaic region which is crisscrossed by a large network of river systems.

Nearly the whole area of the country consists of low and plain lands, and about 7% of its surface is covered by a dense 24,000 km network of inland waterways.

Inland waterways network

About two-thirds of the country is vulnerable to flooding during the monsoon season. Most areas remain underwater for two the five months in a year. Inland water transport is a relatively cheaper means of transportation in Bangladesh.

The inland navigable waterways are classified by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) into different groups according to the depth of water and whether they are major, link, secondary or seasonal routes.

Many unclassified routes are also used by the country-boat sector. The total length of its waterways (700 rivers) is about 13,000 km. Of this, 8,433 km is navigable by large vessels in the rainy season (5,968 km of which is classified for navigation), while in the dry season about 4,800 km is navigable (3,865 km classified).

Inland water transport

This plays a vital role in the national economic sector. Almost all the big cities, towns and commercial centers of the country grew on the riverbanks. The major inland ports are Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chandpur, Barisal, Khulna, Patuakhali, Nagarbari, Aricha, Daulatdia, Baghabari and Chorjanajatri to connect the capital city to ferry services with the districts situated on the other side of the rivers Padma and Jamuna.

The network consists mostly of passenger vessels, tankers, tugboats, and barges. The waterways system in Bangladesh is both extensive and well connected with the rest of the transport system, and it will continue to play a significant role in passenger and cargo movements. Inland ports handle about 40% of the country’s total exports and imports.

During floods, cyclones, and other natural hazards, inland waterways and inland ports provide essential services to the nation through transportation and handling relief materials where road and rail communications are not available or have become disrupted.

Water transport is cheaper, safer, and environmentally friendly and will thus continue to play a significant role in the economic life of Bangladesh in the future.

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