People are directly and indirectly exposed to changing weather patterns through changes in the quality of water, air, and food changes in ecosystems, agriculture, industry, human settlements and the economy. Hence, this study explored local perceived reasons for safe drinking water scarcity and under such circumstances the coping responses in their region. This is a descriptive study based on qualitative methods. Male and female informants (30 + years of age) were purposively identified and data for the study were collected in three ways, through observation and informal discussion, in-depth interviews (n = 18), and three focus group discussions in a coastal village of Bangladesh. Climate change consequences include damaged trees and increased salinity intrusion, leading to a scarcity of safe drinking water. To cope with such scarcity of water, small scale road side mangrove tree planting was found to protect fresh water from salt water. In addition, cost effective rainwater preservation in the community during the rainy season was taken as mitigation of the scarcity of safe drinking water. Considering the geographical and socio-economic context of any specific region, cost effective and environment friendly local adaptive measures can reduce or mitigate the impact of climate change on water resources.
The evidence is growing that the earth is warming, and for that reason future global climatic and environmental circumstances may be significantly changed (Spickett et al. 2008). This trend in climatic change will impact human populations through effects on the physical and biological components of the environment. Worldwide, climate change related impacts, including prolonged flooding, heat waves, drought, sea level rise, salinity, and temperature and rainfall variations, have already become evident (Haque et al. 2012, p. 11:1). People are directly and indirectly exposed to changing weather patterns through changes in the quality of water, air, and food changes in ecosystems, agriculture, industry, human settlements and the economy. Climate change will alter patterns of water availability by intensifying the water cycle. Droughts and floods will become more severe in many areas (Pender 2008). Differences in water availability between regions will become increasingly pronounced, and areas that are already relatively dry are likely to become drier (Stern 2006). Reduced water supplies would place additional stress on people, agriculture and the environment. Already, some 1.7 billion people, a third of the world population, live in water stressed countries, a figure expected to rise to 5 billion by 2025 (Pender 2008). Climate change will exacerbate the stresses on water supply caused by pollution and by growing populations and economies. The most vulnerable regions are arid and semi-arid areas, some low-lying coasts, deltas, and small islands (Pender 2008).
The Khulna district is located in the southern coastal area of Bangladesh. The district has been identified as one of the 15 most climate change vulnerable areas in the world (IIED 2009). The Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest and a Ramsar site, is located in the southwestern part of this district. To address the hydro-climatic condition, the analysis of rainfall data for a period of 63 years (1948–2010) at Khulna indicates that the annual total rainfall is increasing by 53 mm a decade, and the number of rainy days in a year was found to be increasing by 0.8 days per annum (Mondal et al. 2013). However, the annual maximum rainfall and the number of days with high intensity rainfall have remained almost static. The numbers of rainy days during the wet (June–October) and dry (November–May) seasons show increasing trends of 0.6 days and 0.2 days a year, respectively (Mondal et al. 2013). The analysis of tidal water levels of the Rupsa-Pasur River at Khulna for a period of 74 years (1937–2010) indicates that the annual maximum high tidal water levels are increasing at a rate of 7–18 mm per year and the annual minimum low tidal water levels are decreasing at a rate of 4–8 mm per year (Mondal et al. 2013).
The average maximum temperatures in the pre-monsoon (March–May) and monsoon (June–September) seasons, and the average minimum temperatures in the pre-monsoon, post-monsoon (October–November) and winter (December–February) seasons are increasing at faster rates in recent times (Mondal et al. 2013) than anticipated from either the long-term observed trends reported in SMRC (2003) or the climate model projections reported by the World Bank (2000). The average maximum temperature during the monsoon season is rising at 0.037 °C per year, and the average minimum temperature during the winter season is rising at a staggering rate of 0.047 °C per year (Mondal et al. 2013).
The perception of ‘risk’ is a social process (Douglas & Wildavsky 1982) and it is socially framed and culturally constructed. Perception of risk is influenced by many factors including educational background, gender, age, historical and personal experience, etc., and perceptions of particular risk guide coping responses. The coping responses to a perceived risk are diverse and dynamic depending upon various contextual factors such as region, community, social class, ethnic identity, gender, age, season, as well as the likely severity and duration of the potential hazards (Shafie 2009). There are some studies on climate change and its impact at different times by both government and non-government organizations (NGOs) in Bangladesh. But in these studies, research on community coping responses to address water scarcity got little attention. Hence, this study intends to explore perceived reasons of local people for safe drinking water scarcity and under such circumstances the coping responses in their region to find out a sustainable solution in a vulnerable village of Khulna district.
Informants were selected on the basis of three criteria: age – since a study on climate change requires long-term information on weather change, only informants whose age was more than 30 years were included; duration of stay in current residence – only people who had been living in their current village of residence for more than 30 years were selected as participants; and sex – to ensure male and female representation in the study, both male and female informants were included. Anyone who did not meet the above criteria was excluded from the study.
Collection of data
Data for the study were collected in three ways through: (a) observation – to gain an overall idea about the area on its processes, economic, social and environmental conditions; (b) in-depth interview (IDI); and (c) focus group discussion (FGD). Through different ways the triangulation of qualitative data was ensured in order to produce more valid data.
Data were collected using qualitative instruments like guidelines and a checklist based on research objectives. To ensure the validity and reliability of the instruments, issues related to climate change and water resource scarcity were reviewed from the literature and then consulted with experts to develop each of the items related to heat, cold, salinity and rainfall in the interview guideline. Issues regarding rapport building confidentiality and social and cultural sensitivity during data collection were carefully followed.
Participants were selected for IDI based on purposive sampling and 18 (10 male and eight female) IDIs were conducted. The transcripts of the IDI were reviewed and the saturation level of information was considered in order to determine the number of IDI.
Interviews were recorded through mobile phone with the consent of the participants and played back to the informants. Three FGDs (two with males and one with females) were carried out with six participants in the each group. Finally, 36 people were interviewed (18 people through IDIs and 18 through FGDs). Data on coping responses to safe drinking water scarcity were discussed during the FGD sessions.
Analysis of data
Analysis of data had begun from the moment of selecting the problem of the study and continued till the last moment of the final presentation. The transcript of the FGDs and IDIs were regularly reviewed with utmost care. Cross interview analyses for each question were followed to see the similarities and differences in the data provided by the informants. From the beginning, thematic analysis took place to understand the impact of climate sensitive events to the water resources of the people in the study. In this way, content analysis through theme coding was used to analyze the qualitative data.
To present the complex view of climate change and the water resources relationship, some verbatim statements of the study participants were directly quoted from the transcripts.
Some responses were also quantified, while the responses against selected themes were converted into frequency scores and calculated into a percentage among the different categories of the individuals and used as: most = >80%; large majority = 70–79%, majority = 60–69%; more than or about half = 41–59%; and a few/some = <40%.
The presentation of the findings is organized in two different sections. The first section is reported from the findings of the observations and IDIs with community people. This section focuses on describing the local people's understanding of the reasons behind safe drinking water scarcity. The second section is reported from the analysis of the compilation of the findings taken from transcriptions of FGDs, and explores local people's coping responses in conditions of scarce water resources. Verbatim quotations are used to illustrate findings in both sections.
Local understanding of safe water scarcity
Climate change was not unnoticed by the local people in the coastal village of Koyra, and the consequences of this climate change have been identified as perceived reasons for safe drinking water scarcity. They could recognize the seasonal delay in recent decades, and observed the causes and consequences of temperature increase. Talking about the changing pattern of the climatic conditions, one of the informants stated:
‘During the summer heat feels more extreme than in the past. On the other hand, during the winter the fog falls all day long that makes it impossible to see anything. By the way, the rain becomes so rare. It is the month of Baishakh [month of April-summer] but the rain has not come yet for a day. During the month of Ashar [month of June-rainy season] it rains for few days’ (male, age 48).
A large majority (73%) of the local people noticed uneven and inadequate rain as one of the factors in temperature increase leading to water scarcity. In addition, according to them, repeated episodes of various devastating cyclones in recent decades also came as a consequence of climate change that indirectly leads to more temperature increase and water scarcity. As stated by the local people, due to cyclone Aila, saline water from the sea entered into this village. The saline water, which had been present for 2 years, caused great damage to the water system both for the surface and ground water of the village. It badly damaged water sources like ponds and tube wells. This stagnant saline water caused the quality of soil to deteriorate, and trees were destroyed. The local people perceived that due to the absence of trees, the soil had lost its ability to absorb heat. As a result, the temperature of the study area has been increasing unusually, to the point where it is now intolerable and leads to diminished sources of water. As one of the eldest informants stated:
‘It is so hot to bear. There is no shadow, no air and due to the hot situation it seems to be become mad. In the past, there were not so much heat. After the ban [cyclone and tidal flood due to Aila] this situation has been created. During the flood, trees were destroyed. There are no trees, no water. As a result the heat moves toward as if from the soil inside’ (male, age 42).
In this way, flood, cyclone, salinity intrusion, sea level rise, storm surge and many other climate sensitive hazards had an extreme impact on the water sources of this village, which has resulted in an intense scarcity of safe water for drinking and domestic purposes.
Local coping responses in conditions of water scarcity
The people in the community of the study village were highly pro-active in their efforts to mitigate the consequences of the climatic events. The local people practiced different strategies to mitigate the water resource impact of different hazards. Activities of various government and non-governmental organizations in the study village were also found with the purpose of minimizing losses due to climate sensitive events. Some of the strategies of the study population are discussed below.
Small-scale mangrove tree planting to cope with extreme heat and salinity intrusion
Due to tidal floods as a consequence of sea level rise and frequent extreme storms, the village faced the destruction of trees. Moreover, the soil of the study village was not suitable for many of the common trees to grow because of the resultant salinity. In order to cope with the typical soil conditions, small-scale tree planting was ongoing for some specific trees, like mangroves, on the roadside to protect the fresh water supply from salt water. To give the reason behind this strategy one of the informants said:
‘These mangrove trees are salt tolerant which is very important to reduce the heat of the environment by providing shadows and waves. These trees can help to reduce the erosive impact of waves and salinity intrusion by protecting the fresh water supply from salt water. They can provide us firewood, timber to make furniture’ (male, age 51).
Preservation of rainwater to cope with safe drinking water scarcity
‘There is no tube well in the village. We reserve water even into bottles. Sometimes we have to buy water bottles from market. NGO has provided a well to collect rainwater. But, as there is no rain, how will we collect the rainwater? So, we do not use drinking water for cooking or any other purpose. Moreover, if the water is kept for two days it becomes polluted or hot. When the crisis of water is high, so we sometimes borrow water to drink from other's houses’ (female, age 43).
Use of ‘muddy pitcher’ to keep water cold
The local people keep drinking water in a muddy pitcher, as according to them it is very helpful in keeping the water safe and cold. The majority (69%) of the female participants of FGD said that they use this pitcher to keep water in the house. In this pitcher, the water remains safe as they cover its opening with a plate. They mentioned that the muddy pitcher does not get hot quickly, but rather becomes cool at night. So, they keep water in this muddy pitcher to keep it safe and cold.
No alternative rather than ‘river water for cooking’
The community people faced an acute water crisis not only for drinking but also for domestic use and for cultivation purposes. There was very little water in ponds. Moreover, those were ruined because of the intrusion of saline water. Besides, many people washed their cattle in the ponds. So, there was no alternative to cook without river water. Also, due to the salinity of the river water, it was difficult to clean clothes.
The damage to tube wells and the destruction of water quality has resulted in the creation of a water crisis in the area. This scarcity of water has created multifarious problems for the study people. As a result, water for different purposes has to be obtained from different sources. For example, water collected from the launch ghat (launch anchoring platform) is used for drinking purposes only. For domestic and other uses, they depend on pond or river water. Therefore, in order to meet their demand for drinking water, the village people had to buy water drums for 15 taka (0.19 $) each from the launch, which comes every other day from the other side of the river. However, they were not using drinking water for any other purpose. And they had to cope with other limited sources of water. As one of the informants said:
‘Before ban [flood] we had a pond. It was swamped by flood. Now, there is no sign of pond. Again, you can see stagnant water in small holes. There is too little water in these holes. We have to bath in this water whereas many others wash plates and pans. We use this water even for cooking’ (female, age 35).
Climate change in the coastal village of Koyra has been observed by the local people, perceived through the changing conditions they have experienced with respect to local knowledge and understanding of their environment. Temperature rise due to climate sensitive events has lead the study people into an unstable situation and into safe drinking water scarcity. As per the informants, the temperature of the study village was found to be higher than it was in the preceding years. The whole village had a lack of trees, plants and grass, and according to the local people the weather remained very hot due to the sandy and saline soil. From March to September the weather gets hotter. The villagers informed that when the sun shines during the day, the temperature is increased at ground level because of the sandy soil, and therefore the surrounding environment becomes hotter during the day. Similarly, in Mondal's study (Mondal et al. 2013) the analysis of heat index, which is a measure of perceived temperature in the human body (Steadman 1984; Rothfusz 1990; Delworth et al. 1999), indicates that the probabilities of occurrences of heat stress in a day with an apparent temperature greater than or equal to 27 °C are 66, 95, 97, 97, 98, 98, 97 and 87% in the months of March to October, respectively. The heat index was found to be increasing in all these months. The increasing trends have also become higher in recent years. Thus, the rising temperature, coupled with rising humidity, is causing serious discomfort to the people of Khulna (Mondal et al. 2013).
During the winter, the studied people observed that it can remain foggy for up to the duration of a full day, which relates to the decreasing trend of sunshine duration found in Mondal's study (Mondal et al. 2013), and this season continues from early October to early February.
Temperature rise due to climate change is also evident worldwide. The temperature in the second half of the 20th century was higher than any other 50-year period in the last 500 years in the Northern Hemisphere (Pachauri & Reisinger 2007). The Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC predicts that temperature rises at a rate of 0.2 °C per decade are expected for the next 20 years. They also predict that in 2100 the average global temperature rise will be between 1.8 and 4 °C. If these trends are followed, the average global temperatures will rise by 1–3 °C within the next 50 years or so (Stern 2006). According to IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, all of Asia is likely to warm this century and warming in South Asia is likely to be above the global average at around 3.3 °C (Parry et al. 2007). Research in Bangladesh for the years 1948 to 2004 has already found the minimum temperatures of all months (except May) to be rising and particularly the winter months (except January), whose minimum temperatures are rising by 0.13–0.25 °C per decade; the maximum temperature from January to April shows cooling; June to December show strong warming trends at the rate of 0.14–0.29 °C per decade (Pender 2008). Interestingly, without any prior notification of this scientific evidence in the study area, the local people's day-to-day experiences are gradually leading them to perceive an uneven change in climatic conditions that might require them to take immediate action to cope with the situation.
There is a big rainfall variation in this village. The local people noticed uneven and inadequate rain as one of the factors in the temperature increase that leads to water scarcity. Specifically, from their experience in recent years, during the months of April–May (pre-monsoon) the rainfall was not adequate. The analysis of rainfall data for a period of 63 years (1948–2010) at Khulna indicates that rainfall has increasing trends of 8 mm, 31 mm, 9 mm and 6 mm per decade during the winter, monsoon, post-monsoon and pre-monsoon seasons, respectively. However, the trends in the pre-monsoon seasons were not significant at an 80% level of confidence (Mondal et al. 2013).
The changes in water availability resulting from climate sensitive hazards have an extreme impact on the water sources of the study village, and this has resulted in a scarcity of safe drinking water for the people. The study village represents an example of great scarcity of safe water for drinking and for domestic usage. The safe drinking water scarcity in this village resulted from cyclone Aila, which caused significant damage to the surface and ground water systems for the village. The cyclone brought a huge tidal wave, breaking the embankment of the village and flooding the whole village along with other villages of the Upazila ‘Koyra’. This cyclone and the tidal surge caused severe damage to the main water sources through contamination by all kinds of solid waste and debris, as well as salt water inundation from the tidal surges. A large number of the affected people were in need of food and water. Women and children walk long distances in order to get clean drinking water. The lack of clean drinking water has resulted in a number of acute diarrhea cases and has increased the risk of water-related disease outbreaks.
Water availability is under threat from several climate sensitive events such as floods, cyclones, salinity intrusion, drought, sea-level rise, storm surges and many others. As a result of climate change, droughts and floods will become more severe in many areas of the world (Pender 2008). According to the IPCC, the global sea level will rise at least 18 cm by the year 2100 (Parry et al. 2007). This will affect coastal regions through flooding due to storm surges, a factor that has already affected around 46 million people around the world (Pender 2008). Sea-level rise can cause livelihood loss and displacement of people as land goes under water (Pender 2008).
Bangladesh is under threat from these climate sensitive hazards and is already facing the problems of flood, drought, cyclone, salinity intrusion, etc., with coastal regions being the most vulnerable. Regarding the impact of salinity intrusion on the coastal zones of Bangladesh, Henry Chu wrote for the Los Angeles Times on February 21st 2007, ‘Global warming has a taste in this village. It is the taste of salt. Only a few years ago, water from the local pond was fresh and sweet on Samit Biswas tongue. It quenched his family's thirst and cleansed their bodies. But drinking a cupful now leaves a briny flavor in his mouth. Tiny white crystals sprout on Biswas skin after he bathes and in his clothes after he washes them’ (Rahman et al. 2007).
This story highlights that penetration of saltwater is increasing from the coast through the groundwater and along rivers inland. This salty water intrusion is increased by low river flows in the dry season, sea-level rise and land subsidence (NAPA 2005). According to Mohal et al. (2006), about 6 million people are already exposed to high salinity. This is expected to increase to 13.6 million in the year 2050 and 14.8 million in 2080. The population living in coastal areas, especially in Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat districts, will be most affected by this salinity intrusion.
Coping implies a control over a situation that is closely related to resources and assets (Shafie 2009). Local people have knowledge and experience of their environment such as the climate, soil, water, and so on. This knowledge leads the local people to perceive the changes in their surroundings and leads them to take action to cope with the situation based on their available resources.
In the study village, in order to cope with scarcity of water, small-scale road side mangrove tree planting was found to protect fresh water from salt water. In the Comprehensive. Disaster Management. Programme (CDMP) study, it was found that the people of Bagerhat district of Bangladesh had started using golpata for roofing and fencing to mitigate the consequences of salinity intrusion and storms (Shafie 2009). The areas adjacent to Sundarban have an abundance of golpata, as it naturally grows in the saline soil of Sundarban. Now, it helps to meet the demand for building materials where before it was traditionally used for roofing and fencing of kitchens, storehouses and cowsheds. The initiatives reduces the cost of house building, and so the people commenced planting golpata, thereby utilizing the salinity of the area. In addition, a house made from golpata remains cool in the summer and more comfortable in the winter, and cultivation of golpata is environmentally friendly (Shafie 2009).
To prevent soil erosion and salinity intrusion, salt tolerant trees including mangroves in the coastal or riverside belts are an important adaptation (Practical Action 2006). It helps the community to protect the fresh water supply from salt water, provides timber for income generation and creates a carbon sink to mitigate climate change (Pender 2008). Thus, the mangrove tree planting by the local people could prove to be a useful coping mechanism to prevent salinity intrusion as well as to cope with the impact of climate change.
Cost effective rainwater preservation at the community level during the rainy season was taken as mitigation of the scarcity of safe drinking water in the study village. Access to safe drinking water is vital, but the coastal communities of Bangladesh do not have access to a unique source of safe drinking water. Thus, a cost effective solution needs to meet the increasing demand for safe drinking water for these people. In this situation, rainwater harvesting can ensure safe drinking water in areas where safe drinking water is an acute problem (Shafie 2009). In the CDMP study, it was found that Uttaran, an NGO, came forward with a rainwater harvesting technique to meet the crisis of drinking water scarcity (Shafie 2009). This was a device where people can collect and store rainwater for household purposes, and required payment to establish the plant. According to CDMP, it reduces suffering and saves time for women who collect drinking water from a nearby deep tube well at a distance of 4–5 km (Shafie 2009). These rainwater harvesting practices were also found in Rajasthan, where concrete rainwater cisterns about 3–4 m wide and 4 m deep were built to collect surface water from channels that run into the cistern in the rainy season (Chadburn 2007).
There is a large body of knowledge and experience within local communities on ways of coping with climatic variability and extreme weather events. Local communities always aim to adapt to variations in their climate. To do so, they make preparations based on their resources and their knowledge accumulated through experience of past weather patterns. This includes times when they have also been forced to react to and recover from extreme events, such as floods, drought and cyclones. Climate change leads communities to experience climatic extremes more frequently, as well as new climate conditions. Local coping strategies are an important element in planning for adaptation.
Despite various limitations, this study has tried to shed light on the water resources impact connected with various climatic factors in the context of a specific location in Bangladesh. And from the local people's point of view, the study has found changes in the trends of climatic factors over the last few years. Interestingly, without any prior notification of any scientific evidence for the study area, the day-to-day experiences of the local people gradually lead them to perceive the uneven changes in the climatic conditions that might require them to take immediate action to cope with the situation. The results of the study indicate that climatic factors like temperature variation, rainfall variation and salinity concentration are factors in safe drinking water scarcity. However, the study identifies many adaptation measures to reduce or mitigate the impact of climate change on water resources in the study village.
Safe drinking water scarcity problems due to climate change need to be considered by taking national level initiatives. Several initiatives such as policy decisions, scientific tasks, broad research to confirm earlier findings, and institutional capacity building to handle this problem can be undertaken to address and reduce incidents of water scarcity. A specific policy needs to be developed by the policy makers for a coordinating body working on climate change. This can help to organize adaptation measures through integrating assessments of the environmental, economic and water resource impacts of climate change, and the findings from such a study would be valuable for policy- and decision-making processes relating to safe drinking water sources and sustainable development. Cost effective and environment friendly local adaptive measures can reduce or mitigate the impact of climate change on water sources. Accordingly, taking into consideration the geographical and socio-economic context of any specific region, decision makers and different stakeholders should include local knowledge, experiences and responses to provide direction on how planning should proceed in the short, medium and long term in an equitable way.