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Protecting the Meghna River—A Sustainable Water Resource for Dhaka

  • Project Name: Strengthening Monitoring and Enforcement in the Meghna River for Dhaka's Sustainable Water Supply
  • Region/Country: South Asia/Bangladesh
  • Sector and Themes: Water
  • Year: 2014-2019
  • Project Leaders: Farhat Jahan Chowdhury
rotecting the Meghna River—A Sustainable Water Resource for Dhaka
Expanding sustainable safe water supply in Dhaka City is a major activity of the sector to help the government achieve 100% access to water supply.

Pollution monitoring and mapping, engagement of local watchdog groups, and other measures implemented by the technical assistance will sustain this investment.

Development challenge

The Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) depends heavily on groundwater for supplying an area of approximately 400 square kilometers in Dhaka city. Current groundwater abstraction is beyond sustainable yields. The water quality in rivers surrounding Dhaka is rapidly deteriorating and quantity is inadequate. Bangladesh has identified Meghna River as a new source of water supply. However, DWASA does not have a legal mandate to regulate pollution in bodies of water. Rather, keeping the Meghna River clean and ensuring sustainable use falls under the mandate of the Department of Environment (DOE). By 2021, Meghna River will account for more than 40% of DWASA’s water supply. To avoid deterioration of water quality and ensure sustainable water supply, it is critical to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement mechanism for the river. However, the DOE is severely understaffed and lacks the institutional capacity to comprehensively act against violators.

Solution

With financing from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, ADB worked closely with the DOE and DWASA to establish a robust monitoring and reporting system for the Meghna River. The project entailed analyzing existing policy and regulatory frameworks, demarcating different agencies’ responsibilities, and establishing a reporting system whereby relevant stakeholders could report unlawful polluting activities. The project also piloted an incentive system to encourage pollution-control measures.

Knowledge products and services delivered

Monitoring and enforcement of the river was significantly improved by establishing eight watchdog groups, issuing monitoring reports, and strengthening six DOE labs. An ecologically critical area (ECA) on both sides of the Meghna River was identified, surveyed, and mapped. Polluting industries can no longer be established in this area. A pollution-control incentive system to encourage pollution-control measures was piloted. The project provided training programs, workshops, and seminars to build the capacity of stakeholders. There were also stakeholder consultations and public awareness campaigns on the environment, ECAs, and pollution along the river sections.

The project focuses on strengthening monitoring and enforcement of Meghna River’s quality
The project focuses on strengthening monitoring and enforcement of Meghna River’s quality for Dhaka’s sustainable water supply.

A national seminar to present key findings was held. ADB included another project in its pipeline for 2021 while the Agence Française de Développement and Dutch government-initiated projects continue their support for protection of the Meghna River. Protecting the Meghna River: A Sustainable Water Resource for Dhaka was published, which assessed the water quality of the Meghna River and explored its potential as an alternative water source for Dhaka city.

Impact and results

The Meghna River Master Plan was initiated in August 2018. A Joint DOE–DWASA Institutional Setup was formulated to implement the results of the TA with the intention to support $1.3 billion investment in Dhaka’s sustainable water supply. As the enforcement capacity of DOE was built through training, inspectors were able to impose fines on the polluting industries at the Meghna catchment area.

Watchdog groups issued monitoring reports and strengthened the DOE labs. The support also enabled the formulation of a scenario-based pollution model that will guide government on the requirement of pollution control. The project enabled improved knowledge on water quality, pollution sources, and economic and ecological resources of the Meghna River through studies and reports. Innovative cleaner production principles piloted in industrial clusters has reduced wastewater discharge, energy savings, and a 10%–30% reduction in chemical consumption.

The project focuses on strengthening monitoring and enforcement of Meghna River’s quality
The project focuses on strengthening monitoring and enforcement of Meghna River’s quality for Dhaka’s sustainable water supply.

Lessons for Replication

Lessons could be drawn from the development of the geographical information system-linked pollution map, the market-based incentive system for pollution control, and the overall monitoring and reporting system. Understanding the stakeholder and data-driven process of designating parts of the river as ECAs could provide insights on how such a contentious policy objective could be achieved. The training programs, workshops, and seminars are a rich resource for future capacity building in the field. Active participation from a wide range of stakeholders contributed to the project’s success.

The support also helped in the formulation of a scenario-based pollution model
The support also helped in the formulation of a scenario-based pollution model.