In Bangladesh, the significance of water resources in sustaining social and economic growth is unparalleled. Increasingly attenuating surface water sources, depleting groundwater levels and an ever proliferating population have pushed this country to the brink of a major crisis. The adverse impact of climate change has accelerated the already rapidly deteriorating situation. The challenges associated with remediating Bangladesh's water predicament are unique; alternating flooding and water dearth in monsoon and dry seasons. Rainwater harvesting is a way of accumulating and preserving the superfluous water during rainy seasons and making it available for use during dry times. This concept is particularly lucrative for an agriculture dominated Bangladesh, as groundwater is unparalleled in its essentiality for irrigation, and drinking water is often hard to come-by for many impoverished communities. Many national and international studies have recognized the effectiveness of rainwater harvesting in not only conserving water, but also in ensuring the safeguard of this precious resource from various types of pollution.
Recognizing the importance of rainwater harvesting and subsequent groundwater recharge for Bangladesh, the first ever convention on rainwater harvesting was held in the year 2012. Organized by WaterAid Bangladesh in association with its partner organizations, the convention focused on introducing systematic rainwater harvesting techniques and emphasized on the importance of integrating it into the aspect of daily life. 'Dhaka Declaration 2012' was the official closing ceremony; it underlined a series of points accentuating effectiveness of rainwater harvesting projects in alleviating water crisis, and also listed a fourteen point pledge encouraging its inclusion, integration and implementation in national policies and infrastructure. More than two years have passed since the declaration, but how far has our nation progressed in terms of realizing the goals set?
The national water policy came to reality in the year 2013, with a set of broad principles on the management, development and protection of water resources. Rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge were highly emphasized upon in the policy, and glimpses of influence of 'Dhaka Declaration 2012' were prevalent throughout the papers. One of the most prominent points in the declaration was popularizing rainwater harvesting through formal and informal education. The importance of this fact was well-recognized in the water policy, appreciating the value of awareness building through education, development of efficient human resources through technical training. Although previously multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola partnered up with the United Nations in raising awareness by introducing rainwater harvesting projects in certain primary schools, the critical issue of introducing, promoting it to the mass population were never actually addressed. Understandably, without government support, such humungous tasks were rarely possible. Rainwater harvesting techniques have been incorporated in the curricula of technical institutes, aided by organizations such as WaterAid Bangladesh, but non-governmental bodies are limited in their capacity compared to the national government. Now that in the recent water policy, the government firmly assures its commitment towards this matter, it is quintessential for the non-governmental bodies to work in synergy with the public bodies to insure the realization of these goals.
Water being a precious resource, its conservation during surplus periods (rainy seasons) through groundwater aquifer recharge has been prioritized in the policy. The Bangladesh National Building Code also contains an incorporated section about groundwater recharge infrastructures in buildings. INGOs such as WaterAid Bangladesh, National Alliance for Risk Reduction and Response Initiatives (NARRI consortium which includes ten INGOs) have offered advocacy in association with HBRI, PWD of GoB for long bringing these ideas to life. These will assist the GoB to consider actions of the government. There still lacks a comprehensive framework for educating the common people about rainwater harvesting, meaning that the support of the common people do not exist if and when large-scale implementation. The significance of awareness creation lies in the fact that general population are the greatest driving force behind any major national change; without them the potential for success of any initiative is greatly debilitated. The mainstream print and electronic media have not been thoroughly involved yet; the national media is a very prompt and effective way of advertising and spreading ideas such as rainwater harvesting. Thus the profuse involvement of media is compulsory if these ideas are to move onward.
The declaration in 2012 also called for the inclusion of rainwater harvesting into the national building code, national housing policies and other related policies of the government of Bangladesh. The draft Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC), which is expected to be published soon, already had a related section which clearly indicated norms for harvesting rainwater through rooftop harvesting as well as artificial groundwater recharge in areas where there has been overdevelopment and subsequent exhaustion of underground aquifers. Unfortunately, Rajdhani Unnayan Kortipokkha (RAJUK) and other municipal authorities are yet to formulate necessary protocol to apply the relevant codes into functioning form. Rainwater harvesting systems have not been made mandatory for potential infrastructures like flyover, foot-over bridges, airport, rail stations, highways etc. No monitoring mechanism has been established either for ensuring apt execution of rainwater harvesting. The administrative hurdles are therefore still prominent, bolstered by complacency from concerned agencies. Despite a strong commitment by the government in the national water policy to facilitate availability of safe and affordable drinking water supplies through rainwater harvesting and conservation, harvesting systems have not been made mandatory for all government buildings including school, cyclone shelters, and local government institution etc. Furthermore, there has been no substantial effort to preserve natural depressions and water bodies for recharge of underground aquifers in urban areas. A prompt, well-coordinated effort is therefore required from the part of the government to diminish this lag, and move forward. Moreover, there is a necessity of National Regulatory Framework for the BNBC for which NARRI consortium have been working as advocacy agenda closely with all the stakeholders of GoB.
In Bangladesh, there is a distinct lack of water smart buildings, although there have been some individual initiatives. This is unfortunate, as well as irresponsible from the part of the private sector. Corporate social responsibility can be a way of alleviating this precarious issue. Private sectors, especially the real estate companies have not been enforced for implementing rainwater harvesting systems in their projects. Government incentives to encourage the private sectors are virtually still non-existent, despite a firm acknowledgement in the water policy recognizing the importance of public and private investments acting together. Although public agencies have been instructed to provide private bodies with resources for implementation of rainwater harvesting projects, the reality is far-fetched. Often these two sectors find themselves in conflict due to absence of coordination. Government investment in rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge infrastructure is negligible contradictory to its policies regarding these matters.
One of the most important challenges facing the implementation of any large-scale national project is standardizing design. A standard design model is yet to be devised by the government and cost estimated for rainwater harvesting plants has to be made available by related agencies. No monitoring agency has been set up yet to ensure the quality of water for its best use of public health and environment as well, leaving wide-open opportunities for inappropriate conduct and malpractices. The two conventions on rainwater harvesting in Bangladesh, organized by WaterAid Bangladesh and its co-partners provided a common platform for rainwater harvesting researchers and stakeholders. Local researchers have often grumbled upon the deficiency of funds made available to them by the government. Meticulous research is closely linked to successful implementation of projects, and thus it is imperative to insure proper funding for it. The national water policy brought forth a promise of sustaining rechargeable shallow groundwater aquifer by regulation of the extraction of water in the identified scarcity zones. This comes a part of an effort to reinvigorate existing water bodies and induction in development projects. The potential of rainwater harvesting is potentially particularly beneficial to the population in coastal regions where water is scarce and drinking water is acutely difficult to come-by. Over the years, salinity surge from shrimp-farming have destroyed huge chunks of fertile land in those areas, as well as devastated numerous fresh water bodies. Currently there are no safeguards in operation to guard the water bodies yet to be tainted by sea-water salinity, and therefore rainwater harvesting projects can be applied to replenish and preserve them.
The Dhaka Declaration 2012 ended with some inspiring promises from the government. It was stated that Dhaka declaration had called upon the government and other stakeholders with some pressing issues, and Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had ordered the undertaking of strong wilful initiatives to address the underlying problems associated with rainwater harvesting which was addressed by the Honourable Secretary of ministry of LGRD&C. The national water policy of 2013 re-iterated the fact that groundwater recharge held the key to solving Bangladesh's versatile water crises; it came as a clear reflection of the commitment made on the day of the declaration. There have been multiple demonstration of harvesting systems, including managed aquifer recharge system in the University of Dhaka, and apparently the government is willing to replicate these plants in multiple RAJUK construction sites. The government also emphasized on the fact that public awareness is important regarding this issue, reflecting it in the national water policy, directing public investment towards it. However, albeit the paper works and policies are in place, rainwater harvesting is still a rare technique in Bangladesh, despite proving its worth in multiple countries in South Asia. In truth and in simple words, there has not been a push strong enough to convey this simple yet massively-effective strategy of resolving this country's water shortage. Our economy is heavily dependent upon water. A colossal figure of human population density, alternating wet and dry periods, and the extremities of weather powered by hostile global climate change mean that our socio-economic status is under constant aggression. Sustaining our socio-economic structure means ensuring a constant supply of fresh water sources. Rainwater harvesting, of course is the most effective feasible way of doing exactly that. A recently implemented law placed in New Delhi, India requires all occupiers of land to subsume rainwater harvesting system into their structures, and without integrated RWH systems, no further land will be allotted for houses or apartments in multi-storied buildings. Such strict imposition of RWH law in neighbouring India is in striking contrast to our nation, even though we have the relevant polices and framework in place. It is important for us to wise-up, observe these examples and perceive them as motivation for nation-wide implementation of RWH projects for the sake of our future national security.
Abdullah Al-Muyeed is Technical Adviser-WASH, WaterAid Bangladesh and Mashrekur Rahman is a freelance environment researcher