Ahsan U Ahmed Anwar Iqbal And Abdul M Choudhury

Bangladesh is globally known as a flood-vulnerable country—an almost flat land with too much water. In terms of annual per capita availability of water resources, it ranks among the highest in the world. But a lesser-known disaster that affects a significant proportion of its fertile land is drought. The occurrence of droughts may largely be attributed to two recent phenomena: (1) an extensive adoption of high yielding varieties (HYV) of paddy (i.e., rice) in the drier months; and (2) constraints faced in water availability during premonsoon months due to upstream water withdrawal from river systems. Up to 15% of the total cultivable land (about 0.9 million ha) now experiences droughts of moderate to very severe intensity, once in every two years (Iqbal and Ali, 2001). This chapter examines the causes of droughts in the context of the country's complex water regime, the implications of droughts, and the ways to monitor them.

About 80% of annual monsoon rainfall over the country occurs during the period from June to the first week of October. The western zones of the country receive less rainfall, averaging about 1400 mm, compared to the national average of 2150 mm, and therefore the susceptibility to droughts in the western zones of the country is higher. Table 24.1 provides a chronological overview of areas and populations in Bangladesh affected by droughts during the 1950-79 period.

The economy of Bangladesh significantly depends on agriculture. More than 63% of 130 million people, confined within a territory of 147,750 km2, find employment in agriculture (MOF, 2003). Although the share of the crop production in the gross domestic product (GDP) has been declining steadily in recent times, dropping from 24.66% in 1990-91 to 18.58% in 2002-03, it still is the predominant economic activity of the majority of the people (Ahmad and Ahmed, 2002). More than 80% of the households in rural Bangladesh are directly dependent on the production of various crops.

Table 24.1 Area and population percentages affected by droughts in Bangladesh since I950a

Year of drought

Area (%)

Population (%)

1950

13.79

14.13

1951

31.63

31.1

1952

6.57

5.95

1954

3.43

3.92

1955

9.83

15.49

1956

11.25

9.53

1957

46.54

53.03

1958

37.47

36.24

1960

2.70

3.11

1961

22.39

20.76

1962

11.30

9.74

1963

8.60

6.63

1966

18.42

16.54

1970

9.10

10.55

1971

4.80

5.66

1972

42.48

43.05

1976

5.02

5.48

1978

3.66

4.51

1979

42.04

43.90

Source: Chowdhury and Hussain (1983).

aDrought-free years include 1953, 1959, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969,1973,1974,1975, and 1977. Since the drought of 1979, the government has been taking proactive measures toward promoting irrigation in the drought-prone areas.

Source: Chowdhury and Hussain (1983).

aDrought-free years include 1953, 1959, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969,1973,1974,1975, and 1977. Since the drought of 1979, the government has been taking proactive measures toward promoting irrigation in the drought-prone areas.

Paddy (rice) is the main crop, occupying about 80% of the cultivated land. Multiple varieties of paddy are grown in the country. In addition to the local paddy variety Aman (i.e., T. Aman) grown in the monsoon season, a premonsoon local variety named Aus is also grown during March-June. Jute, a cash crop, has also been grown in lands that were marginally suitable either for Aus or for Aman.

Because of the increasing population and food requirements, farmers first adopted HYV of paddy and began to encroach into wetlands by building embankments in the floodplains to make inundated land virtually flood free and suitable for Aman cropping. In addition, farmers began cultivating HYV Boro during the dry season with the help of irrigation. Depending on the general variability of climate and annual distribution of temperature and moisture regimes, there are three major cropping seasons in Bangladesh: pre-Kharif, Kharif, and Rabi (figure 24.1).

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