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In Chattogram Hill Tracts, life is on water

Upon initial gaze, the Chattogram Hill Tracts greets you with lush green hills, lakes, waterfalls, and thriving forests that stretch endlessly. One might ponder: how can such a place grapple with water scarcity?
Published: 10 Jan, 2024
⏲ 4 minutes Read

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.

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Conserves water resources

Enhances groundwater recharge, revives springs, supports in maintaining water balance, and increases baseflows.

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Improves water security

Increased baseflows and spring flows, ensuring year-round water availability for household use, livestock, and minor irrigation.

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Facilitates effective water governance

Ensures fair and equitable water distribution and use, participatory decision making, and gender equality and social inclusion (GESI).

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Maintains water quality and environmental flows

Supports water regulation as well as cultural services, and sustains freshwater ecosystems.

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.

Participants gather by the spring site
Participants gather by the spring site in Rangmati to learn about the importance of hydrogeology in revising springs. (Photo: Sumon Chakraborty, Chattogram Hill Tracts Development Board (CHTDB)
“I serve in the Forest Department, where I once believed that reviving any spring required reforestation and forest restoration. From the valuable insights gained with this training, I now understand the significance of geological studies in reviving these springs.” – Forest Officer, Bandarban

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.

women and marginalised groups
Special attention should be given to women and marginalised groups, as they hold invaluable knowledge about springs. (Photo: ICIMOD)

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.

The tribal communities are deeply concerned about the security of their ancestral lands, with complex land issues at play. It is crucial that we begin by understanding these communities and subsequently work towards fostering awareness of the significance of spring revival and management. – Mohammad Mahbub Murshed, Professor, University of Chittagong

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.

Effectively managing springs is a vital Nature-based Solution to address the societal crisis brought on by water shortage. To accomplish this, it is imperative we engage not only local communities but also collaborate with a diverse group of stakeholders, including experts, academia, and NGOs. – Amin Raquibul, Country Representative, IUCN Bangladesh

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.


Communications Officer - HI-REAP, ICIMOD


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