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Moving from Resource Development to Resource Management: Problems, Prospects and Policy Recommendations for Sustainable Groundwater Management in Bangladesh

Abstract

Increased groundwater accessibility resulting from the expansion of deep and shallow tube wells helped Bangladesh attain near self-sufficiency in rice, with national output increasing over 15 million tons in the last two decades. However, problems associated with the excessive exploitation of groundwater notably declining water tables, deteriorating water quality, increasing energy costs and carbon emissions are threatening the sustainability of Bangladesh’s groundwater irrigated economy. The forefront challenge, therefore, is to shift the focus from development to management of this precious resource. To ease out pressure on groundwater resources, attention must be diverted to further develop surface water resources. In addition to increasing supplies, water demand also need to be curtailed by increasing water use efficiency through the adoption of water conserving practices such as reduced tillage, raised bed planting, and the right choices of crops. Decreasing water availability both in terms of quantity and quality suggest that the unchecked expansion of dry season boro rice cultivation may not be a long-term option for Bangladesh. Therefore less thirsty wheat and maize crops may be promoted as feasible alternatives to boro. In addition to technical solutions, strong linkage between different institutions will be needed to evaluation strategic options and effective implementation of national policies for the management of groundwater resources.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to Dr. Tushaar Shah of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) for reviewing and providing valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper. We thank different water and agriculture organizations of Bangladesh for providing needed data and information. This research was conducted under the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia – Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) project funded by the USAID Mission in Bangladesh.

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Correspondence to Asad S. Qureshi.

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Qureshi, A.S., Ahmad, Z.U. & Krupnik, T.J. Moving from Resource Development to Resource Management: Problems, Prospects and Policy Recommendations for Sustainable Groundwater Management in Bangladesh. Water Resour Manage 29, 4269–4283 (2015) doi:10.1007/s11269-015-1059-y

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Keywords

  • Groundwater management
  • Bangladesh
  • Water use efficiency
  • Boro rice
  • Tubewell
  • Arsenic contamination