Thar, located in the southeastern region of Pakistan’s Sindh province, is a vast desert characterized by extreme temperatures and scarce rainfall. The region’s unforgiving climate and limited access to water resources have contributed to persistent poverty among its inhabitants.
Water scarcity is not just an environmental issue in Thar, it is a fundamental factor driving poverty, impacting every aspect of life for the people living there.
Similarly, nestled in the southeastern coastal region of Bangladesh, Cox’s Bazar is famous for its long sandy beaches. However, the area also faces significant issues like water scarcity and poverty. While the region attracts thousands of tourists annually, its local population struggles to secure access to clean water. Not only does it hinder economic development, but it also promotes a cycle of poverty.
This article delves into the unseen connection between water and poverty in Cox’s Bazar and Thar, shedding light on its residents’ difficulties and the initiatives undertaken to address these pressing issues.
The Water Scarcity Challenge
Residents of Thar have been relying on tube wells and underground aquifers to access water. However, these sources are highly unpredictable and often inadequate to meet the demands of a growing population.
Not only is the rain unpredictable, the desert rarely ever gets any. Hence, many are left without access to water for irrigation, causing agriculture to suffer. Most of the population, which relies on agriculture for sustenance, is left with parched fields. Not just that, but the livestock is drastically affected by the lack of clean water and food, leading to deaths.
Hence, food insecurity and economic instability continue to be one of the biggest problems faced by the population of Thar.
Water and Health
The scarcity of clean and safe drinking water is another significant concern in Thar. With limited access to clean water, residents are forced to consume water from contaminated sources. That leads to the prevalence of waterborne diseases like diarrhea, cholera, and hepatitis.
Children, especially, are at risk of dying from preventable diseases. Because water and food poverty is a major issue, children are often seen to be malnourished or sick.
High infant mortality rates and widespread malnutrition directly result from inadequate water supply. And the cycle of poverty becomes unbreakable.
The Burden on Women
While some of us continue to take access to clean water for granted, the residents of Thar are forced to walk five kilometers back and forth to fetch water. And it is women who are tasked with the responsibility to do so!
Fetching water is a physically demanding chore that requires walking long distances in harsh conditions. The hours spent in this daily struggle prevent many girls from attending school and limit the economic opportunities available to women.
Consequently, gender inequality persists, further hindering progress and development in the region.
Migration and Displacement
Poverty and water scarcity have led to a distressing migration trend in Thar. Many families, unable to sustain themselves in the region, are forced to leave their ancestral homes to seek better opportunities in urban areas. This migration further strains the limited resources of already overcrowded cities.
On the other hand, residents who cannot afford to move to the city are left behind and continue to suffer.
Efforts Towards Alleviation
Recognizing the dire situation in Thar, various governmental and non-governmental organizations have undertaken initiatives to address water scarcity and poverty in the region. These initiatives include:
1. Water Conservation and Management: Projects focusing on water conservation, rainwater harvesting, and efficient irrigation techniques are being implemented to maximize available water resources.
2. Clean Water Provision: Efforts are being made to provide access to clean and safe drinking water by installing hand pumps and water purification systems.
3. Livelihood Diversification: Programs aimed at diversifying livelihoods beyond agriculture and livestock rearing are being introduced to create alternative sources of income and reduce dependence on water-intensive activities.
4. Women Empowerment: Initiatives are being launched to empower women by providing education and skill training, enabling them to participate in income-generating activities beyond water fetching.
Water Scarcity in Cox’s Bazar
Cox’s Bazar experiences a unique geographical situation where freshwater sources are scarce due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal. Available water is mostly saltwater, making it impossible to drink.
Hence, the region primarily relies on groundwater. Since the camps are overcrowded, the water is often over-extracted, leading to declining water tables and increased salinity. As a result, access to safe and clean drinking water is limited for both rural and urban populations in Cox’s Bazar.
Water scarcity affects various aspects of daily life and hinders the development of a sustainable livelihood for many.
Impact on Agriculture and Livelihoods
Agriculture is the backbone of the local economy in Cox’s Bazar. However, the erratic water supply poses significant challenges for farmers, especially during the dry seasons.
Lack of irrigation facilities and water stress reduces crop yields, making it difficult for farmers to break free from the poverty trap. Although salt water can be used for irrigation, it comes with its own set of problems and can cause damage to the crops.
Additionally, the increasing water salinity also affects livestock and reduces the potential for income generation through animal husbandry.
Access to clean water has been a major issue for the residents of Cox’s Bazar. Their water sources are contaminated by E.coli and other harmful chemicals, leading to deaths. Because the children are already malnourished, the contaminated water only adds to the problem.
Acute water diarrhea and typhoid are common diseases found in the bazaar. Although preventable, the lack of government support and strained economic resources have made it difficult for the residents to access clean water.
Sanitation and Hygiene Challenges
Water scarcity in Cox’s Bazar also affects sanitation and hygiene practices, as people struggle to maintain proper sanitation facilities and access to water for personal hygiene. Latrines are often seen to be overflowing, and the wastewater is then led to the water resources. These water resources are used for drinking, cleaning, and cooking purposes.
Inadequate sanitation increases the risk of water contamination and the spread of diseases, further compromising the health and well-being of the local population.
Efforts Towards Alleviation
Although the UN has installed water purifiers with the help of the Bangladeshi government, more is needed. Around 40,000 refugees now have access to clean water, while more than half are still forced to use contaminated water for drinking.
To better people’s lives, you can donate water and help ensure access to clean water is made possible. Even a small amount of donation can make a huge difference!
The unseen connection between water and poverty in Thar and Cox’s Bazar impacts the lives of its residents in multiple ways. Poverty persists without access to a reliable water supply, hampering socio-economic development.
Genuine efforts from the government, civil society, and international partners are required to address water scarcity and improve the population’s living conditions. It is important to build a more sustainable and prosperous future. Only then can the unseen connection between water and poverty be severed, allowing the region and its people to flourish.