Water, which is vital for life, is a valuable resource that supports human survival and the well-being of ecosystems and economies globally. However, water scarcity is a major issue in certain corners of the world and has dire consequences, leading to health crises and high mortality rates.
In countries in the Middle East and regions of North Africa, life is tough for at least 83% of the population, which is exposed to extremely high water stress. Sadly, South Asia faces a similar situation. Around 70% of Thar’s population, the largest desert in Pakistan, does not have access to clean drinking water. Similarly, in Bangladesh, around 68 million people have been deprived of safely managed sources of water.
Thar Desert: A Struggle for Survival
The Thar Desert, spanning parts of southeastern Pakistan, is one of the world’s most densely populated dry regions. Characterized by its scorching temperatures and low rainfall, the Thar Desert faces a severe water crisis, resulting in limited access to clean and sufficient drinking water.
Erratic Rainfall Patterns
The Thar region receives irregular and scanty rainfall, making agriculture and water availability highly unpredictable. The region heavily depends on rain for growing crops and feeding livestock. Dependence on monsoon rains leaves the region vulnerable to droughts and crop failures, directly impacting the availability of food for families and, as a result causing further sickness and malnourishment for the children.
The shortage of water in this area isn’t solely due to natural factors. It has been exacerbated by excessive groundwater extraction, inefficient irrigation methods, and the absence of sustainable water management.
Unsustainable groundwater pumping has resulted in falling water tables, saline intrusion, and water quality degradation.
Water Scarcity and Health Impacts
The scarcity of water in the Thar Desert has far-reaching consequences on the health and well-being of its inhabitants. Limited access to clean water leads to poor hygiene practices and increased rates of waterborne diseases. That further causes malnutrition due to insufficient water for agriculture.
In such situations, diseases like diarrhea, cholera, and other waterborne illnesses can quickly spread, posing a greater risk to children and older individuals, who are particularly vulnerable to health issues.
The scarcity of water negatively impacts agricultural productivity, resulting in lower crop yields and food shortages. This, in turn, can contribute to malnutrition and food insecurity in the region. Since agriculture is a primary source of income for many communities in the Thar region, water scarcity directly affects their livelihoods, causing income losses and economic hardship.
Not just that, but poverty also is one of the leading factors of food insecurity. High levels of poverty hinder access to adequate food. Many families in Thar struggle to afford nutritious meals, leading to malnutrition and related health issues.
Bangladesh's Water Woes: A Looming Crisis
Bangladesh, a densely populated country with a high dependence on agriculture, is also grappling with its own water scarcity challenges. The country’s water resources are under immense pressure due to factors such as population growth, industrialization, and climate change-induced changes in rainfall patterns.
The availability of safe drinking water is a critical concern, particularly in rural areas where people rely heavily on contaminated water sources, leading to the spread of diseases like arsenicosis and cholera.
Uneven Distribution of Rainfall
While Bangladesh experiences significant rainfall during the monsoon season, its distribution is uneven across the year and across regions. This leads to periods of excess water followed by dry spells, making it difficult to deal with the already inefficient water storage and management.
Pollution and Contamination
The unchecked release of industrial discharge into water bodies is a chief culprit behind water pollution in Bangladesh. The discharge contains an array of hazardous chemicals, heavy metals, and other pollutants that infiltrate rivers and waterways, worsening already compromising water quality.
Contaminated water sources pose health risks, increasing the burden of waterborne diseases on the population.
Not just that, but Bangladesh also faces a refugee problem. Residing in the Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh, the refugees have faced the consequences of water scarcity and contamination. Forced to live in makeshift tents and use unsanitary latrines have led to water contamination.
Inadequate sanitation facilities and the absence of efficient sewage treatment systems result in the discharge of untreated human waste directly into water bodies. This unsanitary practice introduces bacteria, pathogens, and other contaminants, making water sources unfit for consumption.
Besides that, a particularly sneaky form of water pollution in Bangladesh is the presence of high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater. Millions of people are at risk of ingesting arsenic-contaminated water, leading to long-term health issues.
Bangladesh is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels and changes in precipitation patterns. These changes can lead to salinity intrusion in freshwater sources and disrupt traditional water sources.
Inefficient Water Management
The lack of proper water storage, distribution, and management infrastructure hampers efforts to effectively make use of the available water resources. Water losses due to leakage further exacerbate the scarcity issue.
Health Fallout and Mortality Rates
The water-related health issues in Bangladesh are directly linked to elevated mortality rates. More than 1.5 million children are at increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning, and malnutrition due to contamination of water resources and frequent flooding. Contaminated water sources expose millions to various diseases, contributing to a higher incidence of waterborne illnesses and chronic health conditions.
The lack of proper sanitation facilities, inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and limited access to clean water for medical facilities further aggravate the mortality rates. Maternal and child mortality rates also bear the brunt of water scarcity, as access to clean water and sanitation during childbirth and early childhood is crucial for reducing preventable deaths.
Moreover, water scarcity affects crop yields and agricultural productivity, affecting food security for millions of Bangladeshis. Reduced agricultural output and industrial productivity due to water shortages can lead to further food insecurity, malnourishment, and high mortality rates.
Sustainable Solutions and the Way Forward
Addressing the water scarcity crisis in the Thar Desert and Bangladesh requires a multi-pronged approach encompassing sustainable water management, improved infrastructure, education, and policy changes. Rainwater harvesting, efficient irrigation techniques, and reforestation can help recharge groundwater and preserve water resources.
Investment in sanitation facilities and health services, along with public awareness campaigns about waterborne diseases, can significantly reduce mortality rates. Collaboration between governments, non-governmental organizations, and international bodies is crucial to implementing effective solutions that tackle both the immediate challenges and long-term sustainability.
Water scarcity in the Thar Desert of India and Bangladesh is not just a matter of inconvenience; it’s a matter of life and death. The high mortality rates in these regions are intricately tied to the lack of access to clean and sufficient water.
Urgent actions are needed to address these challenges, ranging from sustainable water management practices to comprehensive healthcare interventions. As the global community strives to achieve sustainable development goals, ensuring access to clean water and improving health outcomes in water-scarce regions must remain a top priority.