Bengal Delta faces severe water crisis, urgent action needed to revive rivers

Bengal Delta faces severe water crisis, urgent action needed to revive rivers

Biswabrata Goswami

KRISHNAGAR, 2 JULY: Once renowned for its abundant water resources, the Bengal Delta is now grappling with an unprecedented water crisis. Historical records from the colonial era describe the region as water-rich, but over the past two centuries, numerous rivers have either drastically altered their courses or disappeared entirely. In the last century alone, the Bengal Delta has lost approximately 700 rivers, severely depleting its vital water resources. The Nadia district has seen the disappearance of thirty rivers, marking a drastic shift in the region’s hydrological landscape.

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Development efforts, particularly in developing countries, have significantly impacted river systems, causing severe ecological imbalances. Rivers are not just economic lifelines; they are cultural backbones of rural societies. The loss of these water bodies threatens agricultural productivity and human livelihoods, which are intricately tied to the health of these river systems.

The plight of the Ganges River underscores the severity of the situation. The Ganges, once a lifeline for millions, has witnessed alarming degradation. While the river saw temporary improvements in water quality during the Covid-19 lockdown, conditions have since worsened. Oxygen levels are depleting, and rising salinity is endangering aquatic life, including the critically endangered Gangetic dolphin. These dolphins, which require a minimum water depth of five meters to thrive, have become rare sightings, indicating dangerously low water levels.

A recent report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) highlights the critical state of the Ganges River, emphasizing the threats posed by reduced water flow from the Farakka feeder canal and seawater intrusion in Bhagirathi-Hooghly river. Environmentalist Dr. Pravat Kumar Shit has extensively documented the region’s hydrological changes, noting the disappearance of key rivers in Nadia district, such as several paleochannels of Bhagirathi, Jalangi, Churni, Mathabhanga, and Ichamati, along with smaller rivers like Kalinga, Palda, Paglachandi, Kujla, and Kumari.

This drastic reduction in river systems has led to a concerning decline in groundwater levels. Recent research published in Nature reveals an annual groundwater level decline of -1.1 to -3.3 cm across the Ganges basin of West Bengal. Dr. Shit advocates for immediate measures to safeguard India’s water resources, including limiting groundwater extraction from shallow reservoirs and increasing reliance on monsoonal river flow for annual recharge. Restoring small river channels and stems is critical to reviving the region’s hydrological health.

The call to action for elected representatives is clear: proactive measures are needed to restore the ecological balance of the region’s rivers. This restoration is crucial not only for current populations but also to ensure that future generations inherit a sustainable environment. The revival of small rivers, which collectively contribute to the health of larger river systems, is essential. Failure to address this crisis could result in further ecological and economic decline, increasing the risk of devastating floods and exacerbating water scarcity, Dr Shit said.

As the Bengal Delta faces this severe water crisis, it is imperative that both governmental and non-governmental entities work together to implement sustainable water management practices. Ensuring the health of our rivers today will secure a viable and prosperous future for the generations to come.

Tags: #BengalDelta #GangesRiver #WaterCrisis #WestBengal

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