Super cyclone Amphan has either damaged or rendered unusable almost all sources of safe drinking water in the country’s most water-stressed coastal areas, leaving thousands without a drop of safe water to drink.
Scores of fresh water ponds in the worst affected villages in coastal districts such as Satkhira and Khulna got heavily contaminated with saline water still gushing through breaches the cyclone has made in coastal embankments more than a week ago.
Hundreds of deep tube-wells lay submerged in salt water flooding dozens of coastal unions and such is the condition with tanks harvesting rain water, the only source of safe drinking water for many.
‘We feel paranoid with dangers surrounding us,’ said Shamsur Rahman, chairman of Dakkhin Bedkashi union parishad at Koyra in Khulna.
‘Disaster mismanagement is worsening the situation and we see death stirring its head in whatever direction we look,’ he said.
Amphan pummelled Bangladesh, mainly its coastal areas, for 15 hours from Wednesday afternoon, with damaging winds and tidal surges reaching up to 15 feet.
The powerful severe cyclonic storm caused coastal embankment to collapse at many places while washing away vast coastal areas with salt water.
The Department of Public Health Engineering executive engineer, Arshed Ali, said that 45 fresh water ponds were still under salt water in Shyamnagar and Ashashuni upazilas in Satkhira.
Fresh water ponds are the only source of water for 15 out of 23 unions in the upazilas which have no underground layer of fresh water which could be pumped out using tube-wells or hand pumps, said Arshed.
The DPHE was operating truck mounted water treatment plants and handing out jerry cans and water purification tablets enough to ensure safe water to only those who sought refuge on the embankment and at cyclone shelters.
‘Most of the worst affected areas are still beyond our reach. We cannot do any better,’ said Arshed.
The cyclone left 729 of 2,200 deep tube-wells in three cyclone‑affected upazilas in the district completely submerged in sea water.
DPHE sub-assistant engineer in Ashashuni, Mostafizur Rahman, said that only disinfecting could put most of the affected deep tube-wells back in operation within a very short time.
‘But we are not able to do the simple task until breaches in embankment are fixed and the tube-wells got over salt water,’ said Mostafiz.
In Khulna, the cyclone contaminated about 1,200 deep tube-wells in Koyra, Paikgachha and Dakop upazilas, according to Monzur Mosharraf, executive engineer, DPHE, Khulna.
Many of the tanks installed for harvesting rain water, each with 5,000 litre capacity, were under sea water, he said.
Water collected in the rain water harvesting tanks are feared to be contaminated with salt water as well as the tanks were installed at ground level exposing the water reservoirs to fiercest assaults of tidal surges, locals said.
‘We are assessing losses to natural fresh water source such as ponds washed away by salt water,’ said Mosharraf.
Some of the areas in Bangladesh’s south-western coast are considered textbook example of rising sea hampering lives and livelihoods by constricting sources of drinking water through increased salinity intrusion.
The government had already made several interventions such as rain water harvesting to ensure that people get safe water to drink.
‘We have so much water that it submerged villages after villages but not a drop of it could be drunk,’ Masudul Alam, chairman, Gabura union parishad, told the New Age correspondent in Satkhira.
Villagers in Gabura need to wade through water for several miles to get water to drink, he said.
Government officers said that once the embankment was repaired it would not take more than a week for them to disinfect and bring back in use the deep tube-wells.
But they are worried about water scarcity turning even more severe in areas where the only source of drinking water is natural fresh water ponds.
‘These ponds will not be usable even in a year,’ said Arshed.
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