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Reclaiming canals will increase food production: experts PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 03 April 2008

Staff Correspondent

Experts are painting an increasingly gloomy picture for the future of Bangladesh's vital canal system as a lack of political will combines with agricultural demands to put a stranglehold on the waterways.

Dr Molla Azfarul Haque, from the Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation, told that around 49 lakh hectares of farmland in the country had to be irrigated from open water bodies or tubewells.

He said around 80 percent of irrigation water was extracted from underground sources, which is lowering the water table to such an extent that the monsoon season often fails to replenish the level.

According to BADC data, 1,479 water bodies are designated canals, of which only 30 have been classified as retaining adequate water in the dry season. Md Abul Kashem Mia, chief engineer at the BADC's minor irrigation information service, told that most of nation's canals were dying in the face of intensifying agricultural needs.

"Often there is not even a trace that a water body existed in locations they used to flow freely. Food production can be increased if we excavate the dying canals in phases," said Kashem.

"This can be done by bringing the canals under the reclamation and maintenance programme on a regular basis," he said. Officials at the information service said bringing the 'dead' canals back to life through excavation and proper maintenance would massively assist farmers irrigate their land throughout the country.

It would also mitigate the pressure being put on groundwater resources, they added. The BADC chief engineer said massively increased water demands over the last two decades had depleted the water table to such an extent that many shallow tubewells were failing to strike water.

"More than half of the extracted groundwater is wasted, which could be considerably reduced through better pumps and advice on how to use them," he said. Dhaka city's canals have also had to grapple with political inaction and population pressures. Only a few decades ago the city boasted 43 canals, 17 of which have now totally disappeared under rampant urbanisation.

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