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Why Water Logging in Southwestern Region of Bangladesh?


The ecological and geological situation of Southwestern part of Bangladesh is unique in many ways. Southwest coastal region of Bangladesh is a unique brackish water ecosystem comprising the districts of Satkhira, Khulna, Bagerhat and the southern part of Jessore. It is the part of inactive delta of large Himalayan Rivers and located just behind the mangrove forest Sunderban and Bay of Bengal. The large portion of the region is coastal wetland formed by the rivers flowing to the sea. Since the Southwest region is located in the coastal zone, it possesses a fragile ecosystem and is exposed to a number of calamities like cyclones, floods, tidal surges, repeated water logging, and land erosion, degradation etc that shaped the lives and livelihood patterns of people. In this paper I try to discuss about the history and causes of some major water logging in this area.

A Brief History of Water Resources Management in Southwest Coastal Region

The Southwest Coastal Region of Bangladesh is situated in the central portion of the Ganges delta with the Sundarban, the largest mangrove ecosystem in the world, situated between the inhabited portion and the Bay of Bengal. During the decade of the 1960’s, the Coastal Embankment Project was implemented in the region enclosing most of the tidal wetlands within high embankments. Within a few years, the negative impacts of the project began to appear. The biodiversity of the region became degraded, river flows were affected and many rivers silted up, affecting navigation. By 1990, over a hundred thousand hectares of land in Khulna, Jessore and Satkhira districts became waterlogged, and agriculture became impossible.

Southwest coastal region is a tidal wetland flooded by high tide twice in a day in harmony with the lunar cycle. The region is rich in biodiversity with hundreds of species of fish and saline tolerant rice varieties. The local communities developed an indigenous knowledge system of water and river basin management uniquely adapted to this natural process. Local communities used to construct temporary earthen embankments, low dikes and wooden sluice gates around the areas to protect the arable land from saline water intrusion. In the rainy season farming communities exchanged saline water of their fields with river water when it became almost sweet. Sweet water normally minimizes the salinity of the land. Thus they got good harvest and variety of fish. It was based on a local practice called Doser Badh (embankment construction by community) or Ostomasi Badh (embankment for eight month), and effective and innovative management of tidal flow and sediment, for agricultural production and land formation. The process allowed the sediment carried by tidal flow to deposit on the bees or wetland basins. The deposited sediment raised the land level of the wetlands. Due to this traditional community based practice, based on “solidarity economy”[1], and indigenous ecological knowledge, there was a balance between sedimentation and land subsidence in the area. Hence, the ecology evolved in the area was in equilibrium. It was a unique system of land-water interface developed over hundreds of years of experience and practice.

The contemporary institutional water and river basin management regime has a long history. Its career began with disruption of local “traditional and indigenous[2]” water management practices and imposition of western scientific management in South Asia by British colonial empire. The British colonial engineers brought the language of “waste” to justify interventions on rivers for commercial ends. Invocations of phrases like “every drop of water that runs to the sea without its full commercial returns to the nation is an economic waste” was abound in the literature on river in colonial times. This is distinctly opposed to cyclical conception of river and water in local traditions (Dixit, 2001)[3]. This amounted to hydrological imprudence, because water is indisputably part of a continuous system that circulates in its different forms on a periodic basin. There was also a distinct shift in replacement of communities by state as the custodian of water and river. This was the days of the advent of techno-economic approach to river basin management. “Traditional” practices in water management were viewed as “backward and unscientific”.

In the 1960s a centralized state water bureaucracy was established according to the report of the Krug Mission setup by United Nations[4]. Following the recommendations of the report East Pakistan Water and Power Development Board (EPWAPDA) was established and irrigation department was merged with it (Kibria, 2005). A Water Master Plan was prepared in 1964. It introduced a compartmentalized polder or enclosure system in the southwest tidal areas. 37 polders, 1566 kilometers of coastal embankment and 282 sluice gates were constructed in the coastal area with funding from USAID to prevent intrusion of saline water from sea and “recover” more land for cultivation. The compartmentalized polder/enclosure system de­linked the floodplains from the rivers and turned wetlands into dry lands (Adnan, 2006)[5]. Thirty-seven polders/enclosures were constructed in Khulna, Satkhira and part of Jessore districts (Ali, Reshad Md Ekram and Ahmed, Moinuddin, 2001)[6]. The polder/enclosure system was developed and implemented in line with the “green revolution” paradigms of “grow more food”. The idea was to promote cultivation of high yielding variety crops in dry lands with controlled irrigation (Adnan, 2006). They focus out the salinity is the main problems to decreasing in the food production in this area. On completion of the project, paddy production increased, but this was not sustainable.

Through this project that taken by the Water Development Board (the then East Pakistan WAPDA) the region take advantages by Green Revelation and for this the agricultural production increasing in this time. It is also noticed that, when the whole country fall scarcity of foods then this area was out of this effect. But due to improper management and unplanned establishment of the sluice gate the polder area affected by water logging because silt could not be deposited in the tidal plain due to the embankments.  In the post embankment period, as sufficient tidal water could not enter into the tidal plain, the silts got rapid deposition at the upper ends of the estuary and gradually the river-beds began to rise. Inside the polders, the wetlands subsided due to subsidence and non-deposition of silt and gradually took the shape of lakes. Thousand hectares of land have become waterlogged. The embankment decreased the depth and the area of tidal prism. Salinity of the soil has increased due to capillary action and vast agricultural lands have lost fertility. Many rivers are drying up due to increasing silt on their beds during the dry months, only a very small area of land can be cultivated since huge area is under water.

From the mid 80s, water logging stoned because silt could not he deposited in flit tidal plain due to the embankments instead; the silt began to be deposited on the river bed, and in the process the river bed began to rise. As flit sluice gates became inopera­tive, water in the polders could not flow out. As a result of these processes, more than one hundred thousand hectare of land became water-logged in a gradual process.

Then the ill effects of the polder/enclosure system surfaced. Exemplified by deposit of silt on the riverbed, drainage congestion and water logging in massive areas creating disastrous consequences for the local communities with inundation of massive areas under stagnant water that seriously exposed livelihood and environment. Due to construction of permanent embankments on both sides of the rivers, tidal flow could not enter into the tidal wetlands. Almost all the estuaries began to silt up at the upper end of the southwest tidal region. In the pre-polder period the high tides used to deposit silt on the tidal wetlands during the months of January to June when local people used to breach the temporary earthen embankments (Ostomasi bodh) built for the period from July to December. But after construction of polders sedimentation only took place in river channels, causing very rapid deposition on the river channels. This process ultimately raised the riverbeds in comparison to adjacent bees or wetlands. Due to non-deposition of sediment the wetlands subsided and gradually took the shape of lakes and over 106,000 thousand hectares of land became permanently waterlogged.

Causes of Water Logging in the South Western Region

Change the Entrance of Ganga/Padma River

The main river flow of Ganga River before 16th century, the major water flows of Ganges run through Bhagirothi which divided into eight types of flow, it met the sea over the 24 Porogona and Khulna. Basically, Jessore, Khulna, Kushtia, 24 Porogona, Murshidabad, Krisnonagar, Faridpur and Barisal were formed by the alluvial soil from the flow of the Ganges and the soil was very fertile. But after that period it gradually turned towards south-east part with the help of nature. As a result the water flow of upstream gradually decreases into the rivers of this region and those rivers began to lost their depth, shape and capacity. Besides the lack of sweet water flow stared for the change of direction of Ganga River and the agriculture damages which depend upon sweet water. It also protects the deposit of silt which brought with the upstream flow. As a result the land elevation of this region can’t rise and rivers began to dead.

The death of Mathavanga River

Rivers of those regions totally deprived from the upstream flow of water for the death of branch river of Ganga named Mathavanga at the period of nineteenth century. In past it was used as a communication path with Kalkata (India) and for the heavy flow of water, sometimes navy-accident occurred and people also died for those accidents. So for the decrease of heavy water flow of Mathavanga River, broad boats filling with soils were sung towards the entrance mouth of this river. Though at that period this technique was succeed, but after some periods it showed negative impact on this river and at last this river was detached from the main river Ganga. For the death of this river, human destruction occurred in the Jessore-Kustia Region. The other rivers named Kopotakho, Vairab and Betna (which had linkage with the Mathavanga River) and the depended people of those rivers were also begun to deprive form fresh water. For the lack of upstream river flow, at the time of ebb-tide siltation occurred and river begun to lose their speed. That silt are started to deposit into those rivers. So it filled with the silt and can’t pass the upstream water flow.

Farakka Embankment

In summer season, 1915 the water flow was 1, 07,516 cusek at HARDINGE bridge point and it was  1, 35,000 cusek at the early establish period of this embankment. To continue the decline water flow, it was 85,000 cusek in 1974. At present the water flow is 67/68 thousand cusek. The only one cause of declining the water flow day by day in the HARDINGE Bridge is India because with the passing time he leaps over the contract. India extracts water by pumping and establishing embankment in the upstream course of Farakka.

Declination of Land

It is observed that the land of south-eastern coastal region is declined for many hundred years. Before establishing the coastal embankment, the rate of land formation with silt was higher than the land declination of today. So gradually the height of land was growing but after establishing embankment, the formulation of land is destroyed. Last 30-40 years land declines and the area within polder goes under compare to the height of river and also siltation into the river. So water logging occurred into those polders.

Unplanned Structure Development

Before establishing the polder in this region, rivers and boats were the only one way of communication for traffic and goods. But after establishing the embankment, it began to use as a walking path. In the next period, more roads, culverts and bridges are also developed here. As a result problem arises for discharging the water from those regions. Because the slope of land in those regions towards north-south direction but maximum structures are developed in the face of east-west side. At the construction period of those structures, many cannels and discharge path of water being closed but comparely less number of culverts are developed at that time. Again maximum culverts didn’t construct as the necessary height for water discharge and pillars of bridges also help to siltation. So rivers and cannels lost their natural flow of water and create water logging at those regions.

Shrimp Cultivation

Now maximum wet-land in those coastal regions is engaged on shrimp cultivation. 42% agricultural land of greater Khulna district is used now as shrimp cultivation. The sluice-gates controller and the owners of Ghers (shrimp cultivation land) have a bad collusion and they entered the salty water for this cultivation. So the vast beyond area of those Ghers are water logged.

Loss of Drainage Capacity of Rivers in the Region

The major river of this region is Kapotakho and Bhairab. The water flow in Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jhinaidah and part of Jessore district reach the sea through Kapotakho. Because of coastal embankment, the tidal wetland has experienced severe environmental impairments in this region. The riverbed of Kapotakho has been raised because of loss of navigation capacity because of lack of drainage channels.


The vulnerabilities and impact caused by disasters be it man-made or natural brings unaccountable havoc to the lives and livelihood of the people in the Southwest region of Bangladesh. Thousands of people have fled in an exodus to save their precious lives from the cruelty of disasters. Millions worth of properties and infrastructures have been damaged and washed away to nowhere from one disaster to another.

Living in disaster prone region, is seemed either bitter fate or curse beyond the grip. People’s faces portrayed with uncertain hopelessness, having no options but to accept their destiny against their own will. Much challenges have been identified that need to be taken with prime consideration. Along with these, the challenge of bringing all key actors from various sectors, in particular, from the government, NGOs/civil society and donor community to collectively frame holistic and integrated adaptation strategies and mechanisms fitted to context of the region, and develop policy to ensure sustainable disaster management in consultation with all stakeholders is imperative. Moreover, the community involvement in the process is a prerequisite to ensure ownership and accountability as well.

The challenge has set forth what enabling actionable strategies can be done to address and outlive the poor people of the region from getting drown further into the deep of hardship and miseries brought about by disasters.


Adnan, Shapan (2006), “‘Wetlands vs. Orylands:’ The Retreat from Flood Control in the Ganges-Brahmaputro -Meghna Delta of Bangladesh”; in press, forthcoming publication from BanglaPraxis, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Ali, Reshad Md Ekram and Ahmed, Moinuddin (2001), “Effects of Poldering on the Morphodynamic Characterization in the Khulna-Jessore Area of Bangladesh – A Case Study”, in Proceedings of the International Seminar on Quaternary Development and Coastal Hydrodynamics of the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh, 20-24 September 1999, Dhaka.

Asiatic Society of Bangladesh (2002), Banglapedia: An Encyclopedia on Bangladesh History, Society and Culture. Available online, URL: http://banglapediasenrch.com.bd

Uttaran (2005a), Supeo Panir Sondhane (The Quest for Safe Drinking Water), Tala, Satkhira, Bangladesh

Uttaran (2005b), To/aboddota o Koronio (The Waterlogging Problem and Its Solution), Tala, Satkhira, Bangladesh.

Uttarnn et. al. (1996), A Brief Statement on Khulna-Jessore Drainage Rehabilitation Project, Tala, Satkhira, Bangladesh


[1] The development theoreticians and practitioners have not yet paid adequate attention to the idea of “solidarity economy”.

[2] Traditional / modern or indigenous / modern binary oppositions are prevalent in development discourages where traditional and indigenous are seen as backward exemplifying the power of modernity. It’s urgent for the development practitioners to deconstruct the hierarchal binary opposition and context the power of modernity.

[3] Dixit, Ajaya (2001), “River of Collective Belonging”, In Himal Magazine, Katmandu, Napal.

[4] In 1957 The Krug Mission was setup by the United Nations after the severe floods in 1954, 1955 and 1956.

[5] Adnan, Shapan (2006), “‘Wetlands vs. Orylands:’ The Retreat from Flood Control in the Ganges-Brahmaputro -Meghna Delta of Bangladesh”; in press, forthcoming publication from BanglaPraxis, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

[6] Ali, Reshad Md Ekram and Ahmed, Moinuddin (2001), “Effects of Poldering on the Morphodynamic Characterization in the Khulna-Jessore Area of Bangladesh – A Case Study”, in Proceedings of the International Seminar on Quaternary Development and Coastal Hydrodynamics of the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh, 20-24 September 1999, Dhaka.


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