The groundwater table in the Kutupalang-Balukhali Rohingya mega camp area in Cox’s Bazar dropped by up to eight metres as deep tubewells have been lifting water for the camp inmates for four months, revealed a study.
Assigned by the International Organisation for Migration, the joint study by Dhaka University’s geological science department and Groundwater Relief predicted that the camp area’s groundwater table would fall by 15 metres at the camp centre and then may stabilise.
The study titled The Cox Bazar Model: Introduction and Purpose, launched in November, also suggested continuous monitoring to see whether the water table further fell or not for supplying water to Rohingyas, pumping out from 150-metre depth.
‘Because of its geology and topography, this aquifer seems to be protected from sea-water intrusion. But monitoring of water quality is required,’ Dhaka University geology professor Kazi Matin U Ahmed told New Age on Saturday.
He said that the IOM initiated the study in last July to assess the impact of groundwater extraction for the Kutupalang-Balukhali mega camp.
Solar panels-powered 187 pumps were launched on July 31 with a capacity of lifting 587 cubic metres of water for nine hours a day to supply it to some 30,000 people at the mega-camp, wrote IOM communications head George Mcleod’s in reply to a New Age query made in August.
The project is a collaboration among the Bangladesh government, Japan International Cooperation Agency and IOM, it added.
Professor Matin said that if the groundwater table did not stay stable in future then it would create various problems.
‘It will be contaminated with sewage and saline water intrusion, and might also cause land subsidence,’ he warned.
A separate study by Dhaka University’s disaster science and management department last year revealed that the Kutupalang mega-camp area was vulnerable to landslides for ever-increasing anthropogenic interventions and abolishment of vegetation cover.
Professor Matin disclosed that they were also studying groundwater of Lyada in Teknaf where 35,000 Rohingyas and a large number of locals were facing acute drinking water crisis.
His colleague Mafizur Rahman Khan, a geology teacher, based on his field visits and satellite image studies said that the groundwater at Lyada would not be a sustainable source for drinking water.
‘There is no big aquifer in the area while some parts the groundwater was found to be saline,’ Mafiz said.
He said that alternative sources should be explored, which could be treating sea water using the reverse osmosis technology or be reservoirs formed with water flowing from chhoras (hill streams).
Professor Matin, however, viewed that the RO process should not be a good option as long-term consumption of RO-treated water might cause various mineral deficiencies in human body.
‘It’s also not environment-friendly,’ he said.
Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission’s Lyada Camp in-charge M Shahjahan said that water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera were very common in the area.
‘During the winter international organisations could supply maximum five litres of water per person,’ he said, adding that they provided drinking water to the Rohingyas in lorries from other areas while the locals largely depended on water of chhoras or shallow tubewells.
‘These two groups frequently quarrel with each other for water,’ he said.
RRRC additional commissioner Mohammad Mizanur Rahman said that the Department of Public Health Engineering was working on renovating an existing surface-water treatment plant at Lyada for improving its capacity.
Without RRRC permission, an NGO named Nabalok installed RO plants for treating sea water, he informed.
He also said that two more surface-water treatment plants would be developed at Palangkholi and Uncshhiprang for Rohingyas and locals.
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