Farming requires perseverance and hard work at the best of times. Now with the effects of climate change firmly embedded in many places across the HKH region, farming communities need to become resilient to these impacts.
Connecting the Himalayas to mainland Bangladesh, the Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT) is home to three districts – Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachari. For centuries, springs have been the lifeblood of the communities residing in the region. These very springs that sustain life in this region are now under threat and a water crisis looms large. The increasing population of the CHT region, deforestation, and land use change are placing additional pressure on spring resources. The region is experiencing seasonal fluctuations in rainfall, leading to water scarcity in dry seasons. These challenges stress a timely demand for efficient revival and restoration of springs to ensure present and future water security.
Springshed management as a sustainable Nature-based Solution
There are various ways to deal with water challenges, especially the crisis of too little water – rainwater harvesting, constructing physical reservoirs, or purchasing water. But these are quick and short-term fixes. For a lasting and sustainable solution, we must turn to Nature-based Solutions (NbS). NbS capitalises on protecting natural reservoirs (wetlands, lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, springs and aquifers, bogs, marshes, and swamps) and the water therein.
Springshed management is one such NbS. While addressing water crisis through groundwater recharge and spring revival, springshed management also restores the natural environment and adds environmental, economic, and socio-cultural benefits and gains.
Uniting for improved springs flow
While the scarcity of drinking water has been a pressing societal challenge in CHT, the concept of spring revival and management is relatively new to this area. The Ministry of Chattogram Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA) has initiated efforts to promote inclusive springshed management in the three districts. In collaboration with MoCHTA, our resource persons from ICIMOD, IUCN, ACWADAM and the Water Resource and Management Division, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Bhutan, recently conducted training sessions for the technical staff of relevant government departments from the three districts. Our resource persons from Bhutan and India presented best practices from their countries and provided hands-on training to all participants, primarily on hydrogeology – the study of groundwater. On the final day, participants developed preliminary action plans aimed at reviving springs in the CHT region.
Local communities at the core of springshed stewardship
Understanding social and governance systems is a key step in the spring revival and management. To achieve this, local communities of CHT must be placed at the front and centre of this process.
Not to forget, cooperation from the tribal communities residing in the CHT region also needs utmost attention. 50% of the CHT population are tribal hill people, comprising ten ethnic tribes.
A brighter future with HI-REAP
To bring dried and drying springs back to life, ICIMOD’s Himalayan Resilience Enabling Action Programme (HI-REAP) programme in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal aims for a wider adoption of springshed management as an NbS. HI-REAP works together with the government and stakeholders to design and implement Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) responsive NbS. The idea is to ensure the government takes the lead and creates policies and programs to support this effort, while HI-REAP provides support for the design and demonstration of these solutions. The goal is to build partnerships and gather wider support for the adoption and expansion of these GESI-responsive NbS.
In Bangladesh, our goal is to establish pilot sites in all three districts, which will later serve as hubs for further scaling and development. The success of this initiative hinges on partnerships and intersectoral cooperation.
With the support of MoCHTA in co-designing the springshed management programme, a brighter future with improved spring flows and enhanced water security awaits the people of Chattogram.