Local authorities forge unified strategy for water management: Multi-stakeholder meeting charts course for solutions

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To address pressing water management challenges, a multi-stakeholder meeting was held at the district level in Khulna, Bangladesh. Organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Bangladesh and the United International University (UIU), the event brought together key stakeholders from various government departments and non-governmental organizations.

Led by Bitan Kumar Mondal, Additional Deputy Commissioner (Education), as Chief Guest, and Chaired by Kazi Jahangir Hossain, Deputy Director of the Department of Agricultural Extension, the meeting highlighted the urgent need for a coordinated approach to water management in the region, involving all concerned departments and stakeholders.

The meeting was a continuation of an ongoing study on water management in Polder 34/2P, supported by the CGIAR Initiative on Asian Mega-Deltas. Previously, a multi-stakeholder workshop was held at the upazila level. Local Agricultural officers, local government officers, political representatives, and water management group representatives were also present and gave their valuable input. Dr. Ahmad Salahuddin, Senior Associate Scientist at IRRI, presented the recommendations from the previous meeting.

The recommendations from the meeting included resolving illegal encroachment and leasing problems concerning canals, sluice gates, and similar infrastructure, establishing coordination among the Water Development Board (BWDB) and all relevant offices, including agricultural offices at the upazila level, and ensuring the BWDB is present in the field during emergencies.

Moreover, the meeting highlighted the lack of coordination in the implementation process of BWDB projects, necessitating further coordination with other government departments and officials. The participants stressed that the responsibility for water management lies with the BWDB, and any changes in this regard would require changes in government policy. Collaborating with the Department of Agriculture can improve coordination and responsibility, which can address issues faced by farmers and water management.

Prof. Dr. Hamidul Huq from the Institute of Development Studies and Sustainability of UIU facilitated the discussion session, and the participants emphasized the importance of leveraging collective expertise and resources from governmental, non-governmental, and international entities to tackle water management challenges comprehensively. A series of actionable recommendations emerged from the meeting, ranging from the activation of water management committees to the careful selection of project beneficiaries to prevent duplication of benefits.

Experts also emphasized the need to counter the increasing salinity in the region, which is disrupting farming and causing shortages of feed and fresh water for livestock. To this end, various measures were suggested, such as increasing embankment height in polder areas to protect against cyclones and tidal surges, developing model polders, and bringing polders under crop zoning.

Additionally, the meeting highlighted the necessity of improved coordination between the Departments of Agriculture and Fisheries to harmonize practices and prevent adverse impacts on agricultural activities.

Despite acknowledging manpower shortages within the Water Development Board, the participants remained optimistic about recruitment efforts to strengthen operational capacity. Plans were set in motion to activate and train water management teams at the grassroots level, empowering local communities to actively participate in water management initiatives.

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