Although the cultivation of boro crop has decreased in the north-western districts of the country in the past decade, the water level in Rajshahi, Naogaon and Chapainawabganj is still receding. Even during the monsoon, the water level does not restore.

A recently published research report revealed this. Researchers have identified two major reasons behind this. Firstly, long duration rainfall or intensity of rainfall has reduced in Barind tract. Secondly, indiscriminate use of groundwater for irrigation and other purposes.

Five organisations and universities of the country, led by Australia’s science-based organisation Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, carried out the study on sustainable use of groundwater and food security in 16 districts of Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions. Study of water fluctuations in 328 tube wells in the region from 1985 to 2016 revealed that water is not receding uniformly everywhere.

The research titled ‘Sustaining Ground Water Irrigation for Food Security in the North-West Region of Bangladesh’ has brought to light major weakness of water management. Modern water management emphasises optimal use of surface water and rainwater. But in the Barind tract groundwater is being used for daily use including irrigation.

It has many adverse effects on the agriculture, ecology and lifestyle at the region. Agricultural production has also declined significantly. It was believed that the ground water level was decreasing due to boro cultivation. But the study shows that even though the boro cultivation has decreased by 50 per cent, the groundwater level is steadily decreasing.

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The North Rajshahi Irrigation Project to ensure multi-purpose use of surface water in the Varendra region has been tied up in red tape for a long time. In 1987-88, Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) conducted the first feasibility study of the North Rajshahi Irrigation Project. Based on this, the first project proposal of about Tk 4.49 billion was set in 1994.

In 2013, the Water Development Board sent a revised proposal of Tk 16.25 billion to the Ministry of Planning through the Ministry of Water Resources after several rounds of reforms.

Recently, the North Rajshahi Irrigation Project came into discussion again after two farmers committed suicide in Rajshahi’s Godagari after failing to arrange irrigation water for paddy cultivation. The proposal was again sent to the Ministry of Planning after a meeting between the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture on 7 September.

In the proposed project, about 74,800 hectares of land will get irrigation facility. Irrigation will be carried out through canals by pumping water from Mahananda and Padma rivers. Fish farming is also proposed in this integrated irrigation scheme.

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If this is implemented, the use of groundwater will be significantly reduced, thereby preventing environmental catastrophe. Apart from this, electricity and fuel will be saved, and irrigation cost will also come down significantly. At present, the cost of irrigation in one acre of land using ground water is Tk 3300 to 6000.

Farmers will get irrigation facilities from the project at a cost of Tk 100-600. Apart from this, the production of paddy will increase by 211,000 tonnes and the production of other crops by 17,000 tonnes.

New research sheds light on declining groundwater levels in the Northwest. Indiscriminate use of groundwater is not only increasing agricultural costs but also reducing production.

Also, it has been causing long-term environmental damage. It also is creating opportunity for a quarter of doing unfair business centring water. Keeping all these aspects in mind, there is no alternative to speedy implementation of North Rajshahi Irrigation Project to protect agriculture, environment and ecology of the Varendra region.