The impact of the increase in salinity of Madhumati river water is having a devastating effect on public health, agriculture, and the environment.

Video Transcript

TANVIR CHOWDHURY: This is one of the most important rivers in Bangladesh, the nearly 200-kilometer Madhumati feeds into the river Ganges and sustains the livelihoods of millions along the coast. But its salt levels have been rising in recent years. Experts say that’s largely because of an increase in sea levels which forces salt water back into rivers. They also believe a dam on the river Ganges in India could have had an impact. Jasna Rai is a farmer and says life has become a challenge.

JASNA RAI: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: Our farmlands are damaged, crops are not growing, we can’t farm and cultivate like before. Many people are getting skin rashes. Plus we can’t bathe in the river or cook with river water, so we now depend on well water for our daily needs.

TANVIR CHOWDHURY: This year the salt level in Madhumati was 2,100 parts per million concentration, the highest in a decade. The human body can only stand salt levels of around 600 parts per million, according to the local department of public health engineering.

The impact of the increase in the salt of Madhumati river water has already been felt by the local communities here in [INAUDIBLE] District, most now have to fetch fresh water from nearby treatment plants. They say their health, agriculture, and the environment have all been seriously affected.

Many spend hours collecting fresh drinking water.

PADMA RANI: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: The river water contains too much salt, which is why we take water from here. Nowadays it’s even much worse, so we have to totally rely on the water from here.

TANVIR CHOWDHURY: Environmental experts are worried about the long-term effects.

MUHYMINUL ISLAM: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: Typically it’s been observed that during prolonged summer periods the salt water level increases in the surface of the rivers and canals in south and southwestern regions. Since we’re now experiencing a prolonged summer period, the salinity of the Madhumati River has increased significantly compared to previous occasions and has affected two areas mainly, agriculture and health.

TANVIR CHOWDHURY: Bangladesh is familiar with the adverse impact of saltwater intrusion. But with the consequence of climate change, it is now gradually extending inland, affecting river water and agricultural land in the south and southwestern region. Many have no choice but to use river water.

MIRA BISWAS: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: Saltwater in the river is damaging everything here. It’s hard to take bath here or do household chores. It irritates the skin. We also can’t irrigate the land because it damages the crops.

TANVIR CHOWDHURY: Environmentalists warn if the saltwater intrusion continues at this rate, livelihoods, agriculture, and the biodiversity of this region could be under serious threat. Tanvir Chowdhury, Al Jazeera, [INAUDIBLE], Bangladesh.

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