Last year we wrote an article entitled ‘National Water Security Index of Bangladesh: What
does it indicate?‘ to give an overview on National Water Security Index (NWSI) in the
context of Bangladesh. Our article was based on the Asian Water Development Outlook
2013, which is a compilation of water resources development indicators in Asia and Pacific
region published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In the report, the status of water
resources development in this region has been presented as the National Water Security Index
(NWSI) and comparison has been made between different countries. The scope of this article
is to evaluate the overall water security status of Bangladesh based on this report. We will
discuss the status of Bangladesh among South Asian countries regarding NWSI and also try
to discuss room for improvement as indicated in the ADB report.
Where are we regarding national water security?
Let’s take a look at the status of overall Water Security Index of the Asia-Pacific region.
According to the ADB report, no country has attained the highest index of (5); only two
countries (Australia and New Zealand) have attained the second highest index of (4); ten
countries (Armenia, Brunei Darussalam, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Republic
of Korea, Singapore, Taipei and Tajikistan) ranked as mediocre (index 3); twenty nine
countries have attained security index (2); and ten South Asian countries including
Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan have attained the least security (1). Average National Water
Security Index for South Asian countries is the lowest (1.6 only) in Asia-Pacific region. In
contrast, economically developed countries of this region have relatively higher security
index than us. Correlating the National Security Index with the Governance Index of World
Bank, it can be seen that National Security Index is higher for countries with high
Governance Index in the region.
How do we improve our national water security?
Let’s examine ways to improve the National Water Security Index of Bangladesh as indicated
in the report. As discussed earlier, National Water Security Index of a country is composed of
five separate sub-indices, viz. as Household Water Security Index, Economic Water Security
Index, Urban Water Security Index, Environmental Water Security Index and Resiliency to
Water Related Disasters Index. It is therefore necessary to improve the status of these sub-
indices to improve the overall status of National Water Security Index.
If we consider Household Water Security Index first, research shows that, Household
Security Index is higher for the countries with higher GDP. First of all, it is necessary to
integrate financing for water supply and sanitation to improve the status of Household Water
Security Index. According to research, each taka invested in water supply and sanitation
could save 5 – 46 takas spent in health sector, besides also increasing economic productivity.
In order to achieve this, necessary financial and technical support, and perhaps autonomy,
should be given to the organizations involved in the water supply and sanitation sector.
However, the government should act as regulator to ensure the accountability of these
organizations. In addition, investment should be doubled in the sanitation sector.
Economic Water security Index value is slightly greater than 3 in South Asian countries,
including Bangladesh. This sub-index value is relatively higher than other sub-indices as
government, non-government organizations (NGOs), and private organizations always ensure
the supply of necessary (water) resources for economic development. However, some
initiative should be taken to further improve this index. It was found that, every 1 taka
invested in modernization of irrigation systems can increase rural GDP by 2 takas. Therefore,
modernization of irrigation systems is a very important factor. Appropriate management of
water demand and consumption is essential too. Moreover, policy directives should be
formulated to reduce internal competition among water users. Impact of climate change on
streamflow of rivers, impact of water allocation on downstream countries, and wetlands
restoration should all be included in development planning.
Like the Household Water Security Index, the Urban Water Security Index increases with an
increase in the GDP of the corresponding country. Note that the value of this sub-index is
very low in South Asian countries. Urban Water Security Index value is 1 for Bangladesh,
which is the average value of South Asia. The first and foremost work required to improve
Urban Water Security Index is to formulate corporate governance. Later, essential investment
should be made to reduce non-revenue water. Non-revenue water is the amount of supplied
water,\ which is lost before reached its consumer, such as wastage of supplied water through
leaks, or illegal use of supplied water through water meter manipulation. Furthermore,
investment for treatment of waste water and controlling disposal of polluted/contaminated
water to nature drainage system would be another initiative to improve Urban Water Security
Index. Besides improving central flood management activities, incorporating integrated land
and water management activities, and development of urban and regional planning are both
considered as catalysts in improving Urban Water Security Index.
The value of Environmental Water Security Index in Bangladesh is only 1, which is the
average value of the South Asia too. Let’s examine some statistics behind this low index
value. About 60% of world population lives in South Asian countries which informs the
lowest per capita fresh water supply available in this region. About 80% rivers of Asia have
poor water quality which places a big question mark on the livelihood and economy of a
country. Low value of Environmental Water Security Index is one of the main hindrances to
the sustainable development of this region. Integrated development of water resources is
essential for improving these conditions. The recently passed Bangladesh Water Act has
clearly mentioned in its very first paragraph, that the act has been formulated for the
integrated development, management, extraction, supply, use, safety, and conservation of
water resources. Acknowledging the necessity of integrated water resources management is a
big step, however, is it still unknown how best to establish integrated water resources
management? Integrated water resources management can be achieved by managing the
overall water resources of a river basin in an integrated manner. For example, river water is
needed for irrigation and industrialization. However, that water should be withdrawn in such
a way that is not harmful for aquatic species living in rivers. Similarly, polluted waste water
from industries should not be discharged into river without proper treatment. In addition,
investment should be broadened from both government and private sector for reducing water
pollution and river restoration. Research shows that, every 1 taka invested for river
restoration can return 4 taka as net economic profit.
About 90% of the natural disasters of the world are somehow related to water. It is a matter
of concern that, South Asia and Asia-Pacific region are the two vulnerable regions for water
related disasters and possibilities of resiliency to these disasters are very low in these regions.
The value of Resilience to Water Related Disasters Index is only 1 for Bangladesh, which is
slightly below from South Asian average (1.8). Research indicates that, this sub-index value
is relatively high for countries having high GDP. Two initiatives should be taken in
Bangladesh as well as South Asia to improve this indicator. Firstly, modern and efficient
early warning system should be initiated for different natural hazards like floods, cyclone and
storm surges etc. Note that, Bangladesh is relatively ahead of this initiative. The embedded
video presentation below will demonstrate how mobile phones can be used to aid the early
warning system of flood in rural areas.
(Video courtesy: Raihanul Haque Khan)
Second, post-disaster rehabilitation cost should be reduced. It can be achieved by taking some
proactive initiatives before occurrence of these disasters (e.g., construction of rehabilitation
centers to evacuate people and livestock safely). Otherwise, numerous disaster management
projects may be undertaken. The aforementioned video presentation demonstrates how the
early warning system aided by mobile phones can help local people to install fishing nets at
the periphery of a pond to prevent overtopping of cultured fishes during a major flood event.
We tried to discuss the status of Bangladesh among South Asian countries in terms of
national water security index by explaining its 5 different sub-indices. We also tried to
demonstrate how to improve these sub-indices as indicated in the ADB report. It’s
worthwhile to mention that some initiatives of the Bangladesh government are praiseworthy
in improving its national water security, whereas some are quite disappointing. Let’s hope
that the Bangladesh government is more proactive in taking timely action to improve these
sub-indices for overall water resources development of the country. We should keep in our
mind that sustainable development of a country depends on the proper development and
management of its precious water resources and ignoring this reality will hinder the overall
development of this country.