Bangladesh is facing a severe water crisis, and finding a ‘green’ solution to the problem has been challenging.
Nature-Based Solutions Offered as a Cure-All for Climate Change and Community Resilience Number and scale of projects utilising nature and natural processes to mitigate the effects of climate change and harmful human activity on the rise.
Mangrove Forests Expanded in the Philippines and India to Boost Coastal Protection Against Storms and Flooding Wetlands in South Africa are being restored to replenish groundwater and safeguard water-insecure cities, such as Cape Town.
Global Communities Urged to Integrate Nature-Based Solutions into Modern Infrastructure International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) published a report in 2021 stating that implementing such an approach could potentially save the world $248bn annually in construction costs for expanding infrastructure.
Governments worldwide are investing their money into researching and developing nature-based solutions. At the same time, global financial institutions like the World Bank are providing funding for projects that use these approaches.
Urban planning scholars researching water, urbanisation, and climate justice in small and medium-sized South Asian cities concur that nature-based solutions show potential. Caution is advised, we suggest. Integrating nature-based solutions can lead to complicated outcomes that help some communities while harming others, as evidenced by our work in Khulna, a region in southern Bangladesh facing multiple ecological crises.
“Nature-Based Solution” Implemented in Khulna City
Khulna, the third-largest city in Bangladesh, was plagued by a severe water shortage in 2011. Rising Saltwater Intrusion Threatens Freshwater Sources Alongside Declining Groundwater and Pollution. Local Government Considers Multiple Options to Tackle Crisis
A desalination Plant Could Be Built to Treat Water from Nearby Rivers. Ecological Harm of Such Installations Well-Known, Experts Say. According to a report by the Institute for Water, Environment, and Health based in Canada, desalination plants release 142 million cubic metres of hypersaline brine into the environment on a daily basis worldwide. Enough brine to cover the entire state of Florida under 30cm (12 inches) has been produced, posing a threat to marine life due to its toxic nature.
Local Government Considers Tougher Water Controls on Residents and Businesses Residents may be asked to conserve water while industries may be urged to abandon water-intensive practices and instead invest in rainwater harvesting systems. Water conservation policies can be challenging and may not be well-received politically.
Local Government Constructs “Climate-Proof” Water Supply System with Foreign Funding
A new water supply system has been planned to extract water from the Madhumati River in the village of Mollahat, located 40km (25 miles) northeast of Khulna. The purpose of this system is to bring water to the city. Water treatment plant processes and provides water directly to consumers during the rainy season. Madhumati River’s high salinity during the dry season poses a challenge for water treatment plants. To combat this, a reservoir is utilised to collect low-salt water during the rainy season. This water is then mixed with the high-salt water from the river to decrease its salt concentration before being sent to the treatment plant.
Policymakers have implemented a “nature-based solution” in Khulna to combat the increasing salinity levels in the water caused by rising sea levels. The solution involves mixing water in the hopes of addressing future problems. Local Government Justifies Expensive Water Infrastructure Project as Climate- and Nature-Friendly
Khulna Residents Reap Benefits from New Water Infrastructure Completed in 2019 Piped Water Access Expanded to 65% of Households, Including Informal Settlements.
The Solution’s Problem
Khulna’s new water system gains popularity among residents, according to interviews conducted. Women can now access water from taps at designated times, according to reports. This is a significant improvement from the previous practise of waiting in long queues for hours to collect water from tube wells.
Contrary to expectations, the reports emanating from Mollahat presented a starkly contrasting picture. Local Resident, Mohammad Liton, reported to one of our team members during fieldwork in 2018 that he had experienced a year of sleepless nights. Madhumati River’s rising salinity and low water levels have started to impact the livelihood of Liton, who is now overwhelmed with worry. According to Liton, the Khulna water project has resulted in a decrease in water availability for fishing and rice cultivation in the Mollahat region.
Residents of Mollahat, including Liton, staged a protest against a project in January 2017. The project was affecting the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and fisherfolk in the village. Despite their concerns, the authorities did not take action.
Environmental Impact Statement for Project Completed in 2011 The government of Bangladesh and foreign donors required an environmental impact statement for a project, which was completed in 2011. The statement focused solely on the water site and considered construction as the only impact on Mollahat.
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) representatives have claimed that the assessment scale inaccurately portrayed the Madhumati River watershed as existing solely in Bangladesh, as per our interview with them. River in Complex Ganges System Receives Flows from Neighbouring India
Controversial Farakka Dam in India’s West Bengal State Diverts Waters of Madhumati River Dam’s impact on river resources felt by Mollahat and other communities The construction of a dam has had a significant impact on the river watershed, making it more sensitive both ecologically and temporally. As a result, the additional burden of drawing water for the Khulna project has put a strain on the river resources, affecting not only Mollahat but also other communities along its basin.
Nature-Based Solutions: Proceeding with Caution
Khulna’s Water Project Serves as a Cautionary Tale for Policymakers The water project in Khulna, Bangladesh, is a prime example of the lessons that policymakers can learn when implementing nature-based solutions. This cautionary tale highlights what should and should not be done in such projects.
Residents of Mollahat bear costs while Khulna industries and households reap benefits from projects. Local Authorities Could Have Prevented This Situation by Consulting with Village Dwellers During Project Evaluation User feedback could have been utilised for implementation adjustments.
Local Authorities Should Aim for Equal Distribution of Benefits Among City and Rural Communities Industries urged to conserve water to reduce strain on Madhumati River and lessen impact on Mollahat community.
Local Authorities Must Ensure No Harm to Adjacent Communities When Combining Green Approaches with Infrastructure City’s Water Solution Shouldn’t Devastate Rural Communities, Says Concerned Citizen.
Caution Urged as Nature-Based Solutions are Scaled Up: Policymakers, Donors, and Communities Called Upon Infrastructure Projects Must Minimise Harmful Impacts and Tackle Inequalities, Experts Say