Conservation Efforts by Ethnic Communities in Bangladesh Bolster Water Security

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    Conservation Efforts by Ethnic Communities in Bangladesh Bolster Water Security

    Ethnic women in Bangladesh have to traverse a long hilly path to fetch water for their households, but now they can easily collect water from newly-revived springs after the village common forests conservation project.

    By Rafiqul Islam

    Just a few years ago, Sudarshana Chakma (35), a resident of the remote Digholchari Debarmatha village under Bilaichari upazila in the Rangamati Hill District, had to traverse a long hilly path to fetch water for her household because there were no local water sources.

    “Unchecked deforestation and degradation of village common forests (VCFs) led to the drying up of all-natural water sources in our village. We struggled to collect drinking and household water,” Chakma explained to IPS.

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    Ethnic communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) rely significantly on forests for their lives and livelihoods. They gather water from natural sources like streams and practice jhum (shifting cultivation) in nearby forests. However, indiscriminate deforestation of the natural resources had dried up springs and streams, causing water scarcity in many areas.

    The tide turned when the USAID-funded Chittagong Hill Tracts Watershed Co-Management Activity (CHTWCA) engaged surrounding communities, including those living in Digholchari Debarmatha village, as conservation volunteers to protect Village Common Forests (VCFs) in 2020. This initiative successfully revived springs, ensuring a year-round water supply.

    The Strengthening Inclusive Development in Chittagong Hill Tracts Project, which the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs implemented, has transformed many lives, including Chakmas’.

    “Now we can easily fetch water from nearby springs, bringing peace to our lives. Due to the arduous journey ethnic women had to make to fetch water, quarrels over who was going to fetch the water were common in the village and among families. Now, we live in harmony,” said Sudarshana, a mother of four.

    Silica Chakma of Digholchari Hajachara village echoed her sentiments, highlighting the voluntary conservation efforts by ethnic communities to ensure an adequate water supply during the dry season.

    “Before the restoration of our forests, we faced water scarcity. Now, we have no water crisis, as we collect water four to five times a day from the springs revived in the forests,” she said.

    Silica emphasised that village common forests are conserved voluntarily, with strict regulations against harvesting forest resources without the approval of VCF management committees.

    Barun Chakma, President of the Digholchari Debarmatha VCF Management Committee, emphasised the shift in mindset, stating that locals now protect the forests voluntarily, contrasting with past practices where trees were felled indiscriminately.

    Enhancing Small Agriculture Sustainability

    The CHT faces aggravated water crises during the dry season, impacting agriculture and homesteads.

    To address this, local ethnic farmers in Digholchari Debarmatha have constructed bamboo-made dams on streams, creating water reservoirs fed by springs from the village common forest.

    Pujikka Chakma, a 45-year-old female farmer, is grateful for the progress.

    “After conserving the local forests, farmers do not face water scarcity for their agriculture and homesteads. We store spring water in the reservoir to irrigate cropland during the dry season.”

    Thirty-seven-year-old Lika Chakma also acknowledged the benefits of the expanded use of spring water in agriculture, including cultivating various crops and ensuring food security for the community.

    Conserving Medicinal Plants

    In addition to addressing water security, ethnic communities in the Rangamati Hill District have been actively conserving medicinal plants for healthcare and treatments.

    Lika Chakma explained, “We conserve medicinal plants in our local forests for use when we fall sick.”

    Poitharam Chakma emphasised the importance of these efforts, given limited access to healthcare facilities in remote hilly areas. “Once our forests were degraded, we faced problems collecting medicinal plants. Now, we are conserving those in our forests.”

    Barun Chakma provided details of the planting, a few years ago, of various medicinal plants, including Haritaki (myrobalan), Bohera (Terminalia bellirica), and Amloki (Indian gooseberry), in the Digholchari Debarmatha VCF. While acknowledging that it will take time for these plants to yield herbal medicines, he expressed confidence in the community’s ability to support health treatments in the future.

    The conservation initiatives run by ethnic communities in Bangladesh address issues with water security, support agricultural sustainability, and protect priceless medicinal plants.

    This piece has been sourced from Inter Press Service.

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