Tuesday, June 14, 2011


A field study report 
 by Uthpal Kumar and Rashed Jalal
In Khulna, Bangladesh - the Rupsha-Bhairab is a major tidal river system flowing in the eastern part of the city. This river joins the Bay of Bengal at Mongla sea port which is Bangladesh’s second largest sea port and plays a vital role in the social, economic and environmental sustainability of the third largest metropolitan city of the country. Through observations and discussions with multi-level local stakeholders we found out that this mighty river has been changing its natural course due to unregulated human interventions and rise in sea level rise due to the changing climate. This initial field study was conducted to analyze perceptions of climate change in peri-urban Khulna by the locals. Observed changes in river water level was the primary indicator for this study. For this purpose, a mixed livelihood group of people were interviewed at different locations of Rupsha- Bhairab rivers systems in Khulna. A brief summary of the stakeholders’ perceptions is given below. 

Table 1: List of the selected livelihood groups.
Livelihood group
Alutala under Jalma union of Botiaghata upa-zila (sub-district) of Khulna
Local farmer
Sluice gate operator
Rupsha ferry ghat, Khulna
Wood broker
Local shopkeeper
Boat man
Ferry driver
Labor union leader
BIWTA ferry ghat, Khulna
BIWTA Officer   

Alutala is located approximately 10 km away from the Khulna City. It is a part of Jalma union under Botiaghata upazila (sub-district) in Khulna. There are 7 unions in Botiaghata upazilla and Jalma union is the biggest one having 33 villages. At Alutala, about 250 households depend on a single water source. However, there is no cyclone shelter at Alutala. The river Rupsha and Moyur have been flowing towards south-east and northwest direction of the village respectively, and thus, it is vulnerable to annual flood and climatic disasters. Local respondents at Alutala informed that the water level of Rupsha has been decreasing. They feel that construction of the Rupsha Bridge is one of the main reasons behind it. They also added that water current has also been decreasing due to sedimentation. One the other hand, the gate operator of Alutala regulator said that tidal water level at Rupsha River has been increasing (Table 1). He said that once he used to measure the water level at the regulator point but since long this has been stopped since long by the authority. Other respondents at the same time said that rainfall pattern has changed in the area and people suffer from frequent fever, diarrheal diseases, headache, allergy and nausea. Absence of rainfall in due time is a major perception of climate change by the local farmers. Farmers at this site informed that now they irrigate crop lands in dry period, whereas earlier they used rain fed agriculture in the same lands. All respondents felt that climate has been changing and rainfall is becoming scarce in dry season. Climatic disasters like cyclone and storm surge have also been occurring more frequently than the past, according to the locals.  

Table 2: Perceptions of changes in water level during high and low tide in Rupsha.

High tide (RL)
Low tide (RL)



During Aila
Source: Interview with regulator operator on May 3, 2011. 

Figure 1: Local stakeholders consultation at Tetultala Bazar near Alutala regulator.

Mr. Golam Rabbani, a local wood breaker at ferry ghat informed that Rupsha river has been drying after the construction of the Rupsha Bridge and the depth of the river is decreasing day by day. He added that the flooding condition of this area has been increasing. Sometimes flood water level becomes very high and the ferry ghat area gets flooded. Mr. Robbani explained that Rupsha ferry ghat road was built in 1980. That time ferry ghat road was not flooded and the road was about 2-3 ft higher than the high tide level. But now it gets flooded frequently during high tide. He tells that water level of Rupsha has been increasing. Mr. Robbani also feels that during the last 15 to 20 years river bed has been filled up by huge siltation. However, water pressure from the sea is also increasing. Natural disasters, like flood, drought, cyclonic storm surge has been increasing, but causes behind these extreme weather events are unknown. Mr. Robbani lost his entire family during the cyclone of 1991. He said that weather pattern has being cruel because of the anthropogenic impacts. Finally, Mr. Robbani comments that after 10 or 15 years each people should be required to have at least a website for storing personal information and information regarding disaster monitoring, money to purchase drinking water from the market, insurance for recovery.

On the other hand, Mr. Jamal Uddin (wood breaker) said that water level has increased in Rupsha ferry ghat area, especially during Ashar (mid June-mid July), Srabon (mid July to mid August) and Vadro (mid August-mid September). He feels that floodplains are mostly closed now. But earlier there was free flowing of river water (flood or tidal water) into the floodplains and low lying areas. As a result river bed has silted up as there is no place for free flowing tidal water and sediments it bears. The difference between the water level of high tide and low tide are 10 to 12 ft. However, before Farakka the tidal influence was less in Rupsha-Bhairab. Main tidal influence was in Mongla point. But now upstream freshwater flow has been reduced due to the Farakka Barrage and tidal influence is mostly in the Bhairab-Rupsha river system. Mr. Uddin said that long back in 1985 large boats used to go to Narail, Borodia and Kaliya from Khulna, but now it has been closed due to the reduced navigation in Rupsha-Bhairab River. Earlier water from Padma used to come at the Rupsha through Modhumoti River. After 1880s it has been closed, and saline water has started to come upwards from the Bay of Bengal. These factors have increased salinity in water and soil in Khulna and peripheral area.

Figure 2: The tidal water level reached to the road level of 
Rupsha ferry ghat.
A local boat operator Md. Rubel Sikder (23) said that during high tide, Rupsha ferry ghat road gets flooded. After construction of the Rupsha Bridge this river has been drying by each day. He added that width of the river Rupsha has decreased by at least 200ft during the last five years.  He said that he did not hear anything about climate change and its impact in Khulna. Mr. Nazrul Islam (60) is a local shopkeeper at Rupsha ferry ghat area since 1978. At present his livelihood is at risk due to the establishment of Rupsha Bridge. He said that his income has reduced significantly as very few people use the ferry communication. Now he earns about Tk 100 per day but earlier it was about 200 or more. According to Mr. Islam this year water level is slightly higher than the previous year. He perceives that the weather pattern is not good this year. He referred that during Cyclone Aila, water level was significantly high. That time his shop had gone under water. He comments that he has never seen such a big cyclone like Aila and Sidr in his life. He heard about climate change, and said that due to the climate change, local fruit production has also been decreasing significantly. Now production of coconut and other fruits is very less in this area. He feels that now weather is highly polluted to carry out agricultural production. Mr. Kader (Ferry user, 75) has been living in Rupsha since 1960. He said that the ferry ghat has shifted downward about 200-300m from its original location. Now west side (Khulna side) has been eroding and east side (Bagerhat side) has been silting up. Earlier long wave height and high water current were prominent in the Rupsha River. But now it has reduced significantly. During pre-Farakka water depth at the ferry ghat was about 100-150 ft. now it is only 30-35ft. He also said that now water holding capacity of the river has degraded because of silting up of the river and as a result water level has increased. 
Ferry driver Mr. Mozid Gazi (75) said that water level during high tide is higher than previous years or period. He added that now tide height is higher during high and low tide. Mr. Gazi said that the sea water level also increasing. He also feels that earlier there were lots of open floodplain but now they are closed. As a result this phenomenon has also increased water level in this area.
Figure 4: shows the tide protection embankment at Railway Kastom Ghat area. Earlier it was about 1-2 ft. high from the high tide level but now it becomes flooded due to tidal influence. The sediment signature shows the flooding condition of the embankment BIWTA Kastom Ghat.
Figure  3: BIWTA's port and traffic officer 
Mr. Munshi Mohiuddin is showing the
signature changes in water level Rupsha-Bhairab 
river system at Railway Kastom Ghat in Khulna.
A local fish merchant Mr. Shah Alam said that after construction of the Rupsha Bridge, water depth has decreased at least 10 to 12 ft. He added that 20-30 years back; water depth at ferry ghat point was around 90 to100 ft. But now it is only 30-35 ft, said by the local fisherman.  Around 200 commercial fish depot is present at ferry ghat area. During Aila fish all depots were flooded by the water depth of about 1-1.5 ft. Now water is less in the river. River navigation has also been reduced due to huge sedimentation. Construction of Rupsha Bridge affected this navigability. Rainfall has been decreasing in Khulna. However, temperature has been increasing there.

According to Port and Traffic Officer of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), Mr. Munshi Mohiuddin, water level of the Rupsha has been increasing. He said, the present yard of the BIWTA was built about 25 years back. That time yard was not flooded because it was built about 1-2 ft high above the high tide level. But now it becomes flooded during high tide in most of the year, especially during monsoon. This indicates that water level has been increased. In July water level becomes very high and that is when the main road at BIWTA ghat goes under water. Last year water level increased more that 1ft than that of the previous year.  


Uthpal Kumar, uthpal23@gmail.com   and Rashed Jalal, himal781@yahoo.com , June 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Understanding water security from gender perspective in Peri-urban Gurgaon

‘Roti, Kapda aur Makaan’ – Food, Cloth and House, this old saying certainly needs another addition in the form of Paani (water). So, the new saying would rather be ‘Roti, Kapda, Paani aur Makaan’ in this age of rapid urbanization! Field visits to peri-urban villages in Gurgaon have provided very interesting gender perspective of water issues. This particular blog post will focus mainly on women’s’ perspective.

During last year’s winter, on the very first day of formal field visit to Jhanjhrola Khera, interview with an old lady could not be completed as she became very vocal about water issues and simply walked away. Coincidentally, that was my first day of field work and I decided to observe this phenomenon very carefully during the course of next field visits. Over numerous visits, it was observed that in general, women spoke fervently and were more vocal than men, about water issues in the village. During one such visit to Jhanjhrola Khera, we came across a woman who had taken about 17 acres of land on Kann (A type of land tenure system). Her husband worked in a company in Gurgaon and she was left to take care of this vast stretch of land. She also had to fetch water for household consumption daily from the hand pump in village temple. Fetching drinking water from this hand pump is part of daily routine of many other women in the village. At times, they have to wait for about forty-fifty minutes for their turn to get water. The situation becomes worse in summer when they have to make numerous trips to the hand pump and also wait longer in queues. In Sultanpur village, the routes to such common hand pumps have been diverted with the construction of railway station. Women are forced to take a relatively longer route to be able to fetch water. A very interesting comment from womenfolk in Jhanjhrola Khera has been that the daughters in this village are better off, as they get married and leave the village. But women, who get married in this village, are at loss since they have to fetch water all the time!

Fetching water from such community hand pumps also signals towards change in traditions. During a visit to one ‘Rajput’ household, it was found that traditionally, in ‘Rajput’ families, women from the house never went to fetch water. However, the male member of the household admitted that this tradition does not hold true anymore. In his words, ‘ab parda paat gaya hai’ – the curtain has been removed! He went on to add that the household will not function if the tradition is followed even now.

Women are closely related to water usage, as they have to take care of the day to day needs. However, they have to struggle more for their access to water for daily requirements. The issue of women empowerment surfaces out in this context. Although the village Panchayats in Haryana have 50% seats reserved for women, they are hardly able to make any decisions about the village issues. The panchayat meetings are attended by respective male counterparts and the woman representative is simply required to give her signature to validate the decision. This is where need arises of their empowerment in real sense and not just on paper.