Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are facing an acute crisis of water. Experts and local families blame deforestation for the drying up of the springs and streams.
As the water sources almost diminish during the dry season, men and women of the hilly region have to go in search of water for their families from early morning. Many of them have already migrated to other villages due to the acute water crisis.
According to the Bandarban health engineering department, 41 per cent of the local people remain out of steady water supply coverage. The situation is getting worse at four remote upazilas–Ruma, Thanchi, Rowangchhari, and Alikadam–where more than 70 per cent of inhabitants do not have water supply.
Dinari Bawm from Pratpara of Tajingdong, Bandarban said she could not take a bathe for several weeks due to the water crisis. “Despite the scorching heat since March, we have no way but to accept the sufferings till the monsoon comes,” she said.
According to officials at the Bohmong Circle in Bandarban, there are 1,437 villages in seven upazilas of the district. They said that water crisis prevails in almost all the villages.
Some villagers complained that springs and streams have disappeared in the last two decades because of indiscriminate logging in the hill forests. Meanwhile, boulders and sand from the water bodies have been extracted to development projects. “The hills are being cleared of forests and the sand and boulders are being removed, the springs and streams are drying up,” they said.
Bandarban’s water system is unique and not dependent on tributaries from the neighbouring areas. “In Bandarban, natural forests preserve the water bodies with stones and sand as the crucial reservoir properties,” said the executive engineer of the Water Development Board, Arup Chakraborty.
He strongly recommended conserving the natural forests as well as preventing extraction of stones and sand from the water bodies to protect the surface water as the groundwater level of the hilly region has been dwindling.
Officials at the Rangamati health engineering department said 40 per cent of the local people reside on the slopes and tops of the hills at 1,000-2,000 feet altitude where springs and streams are the main sources of water. Hill excavation, deforestation and uncontrolled jhum (traditional agriculture) cultivation result in adverse deforestation and disappearance of springs and streams. Due to acute water crisis, many families have migrated to other places. Agriculture across the affected areas has come to a halt.
Krishna Prasad Mallik, deputy director at Rangamati district agricultural extension department, said the water crisis at present hampers irrigation and agriculture on 1,952 acres of land where cultivation of paddy and other crops had been done even a decade ago.
Abdul Razzak, the health engineering officer for Baghaichhari, Langadu and Naniarchar upazilas, told Prothom Alo that installation of tube-well and ring-well seems unfeasible for the hill communities. “Several wells were dug at some points in the localities. But the wells have now become dysfunctional because of the dwindling groundwater level,” he said.
In a recent visit to some remote localities including Phurmonpara, Marangchhari, Chelachhara, Daripara Old Langkar and Mono Adam, it was found that people were fetching meagre amounts of water from the dying springs and streams located a least a kilometre away from their homes. It took more than one hour to fill a medium-size pitcher with water.
More than half of the Khagrachhari people still collect water from natural sources. According to officials, water crisis during the dry season is common in the district’s nine upazilas.
Khagrachhari district council member Partha Tripura, who is also the convener of a committee at the health engineering department, blamed the unplanned plantation of teak and rubber for drying up of the water sources. He said that water extraction even from 300-500 feet deep to the ground becomes impossible in the region.
“Contractors are indifferent about installing a tube-well as the task often brings no result even after spending 10-12 days on it,” he said.
*This report appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman