Researchers and policy makers from Bangladesh and Australia are working to understand the sustainable level of water use, particularly groundwater use, for irrigation in the northwest region of Bangladesh.

Links to reports, journal articles and fact sheets are available on the SDIP Bangladesh publications page


Food security and the recent achievement of self-sufficiency in staples (principally rice) in Bangladesh underpins the sustainable development of Bangladesh, and the steady reduction in poverty and food related health problems. This food security is highly dependent on the use of groundwater for irrigated crop production. In some areas, particularly the Barind Tract in north-west Bangladesh, groundwater is over-exploited, and the use is unsustainable; there are concerns of possible overuse elsewhere.

In response, there are plans to shift to greater surface water use. CSIRO’s Research for Development Alliance funded Bangladesh Integrated Water Resources Assessment reported that the volume of groundwater that can be sustainably used is unknown, nor is the consequence of swapping to more surface water use (which would reduce dry season river flow, with potential adverse impacts downstream).

Researchers from Bangladesh and Australia worked together with policy makers in Bangladesh to develop tools and capabilities to maintain a sustainable level of water use, particularly groundwater use, for irrigation.

The project team worked with the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) to support and mentor 20 Master of Science students to enhance technical skills in both the biophysical and social sciences. The findings from one of these projects is highlighted below the list of Masters theses.


Through groundwater and water balance modelling research CSIRO identified groundwater irrigation as the main factor behind current self-sufficiency in rice production. Larger irrigation area and volume of groundwater pumping played significant roles in the decline of groundwater levels. The majority of aquifers in the region are losing water to most major streams except for areas with a flat landscape or above major river junctions.

A livelihoods analysis found that households with a higher proportion of employed members and a higher proportion of those in work in agriculture enjoy better nutritional outcomes. It also found that financial capital and the level of formal education has a large influence on income. Major floods generally have a positive impact on household level income due to the corresponding benefit to agriculture. Conversely in the northwest region there are many instances of poor food security which is correlated to higher drought exposure.

The capacity building project to support BAU students has strengthened outcomes for the sustainable water use project both in Bangladesh and Australia. In Bangladesh the project has strengthened the research capacity of staff and students in conducting biophysical and social science research and enhanced their capacity to engage in water and agriculture planning and policy dialogues, either as university staff, officials in government ministries, or consultants. In Australia the project strengthens understanding of the biophysical and socio-economic factors for integrated water modelling and the impact different water management scenarios may have on the daily lives of different groups, e.g. farmers, irrigation managers, families, women etc.

Student theses already available from this work include:

Master of Science project profile: Tahmina AkhterMaster of Science student at Bangladesh Agricultural University, Tahmina Akhter

Climate change and water stress in north-west Bangladesh: A study on farmers’ perception and adaptation mechanisms

Data collected and analysed by Tahmina provides some interesting insights into farmers’ perception and adaptation to climate change.

After conducting and analysing 720 surveys Tahmina found the majority of male and female respondents recognised increasing temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns as a consequence of climate change. Huge changes in rainfall patterns included unexpected rainfall, rainfall with strong winds, and rainfall with more thunderstorms and lightning.

About 70% of male and 65% of females recounted that drought occurs every year.

The main adaptation strategies to drought that farmers in the study areas use included: planting short duration and drought tolerant rice varieties; supplementary irrigation for Aman and Boro rice; cultivation of non-rice Rabi and horticultural crops; water harvesting techniques; and improvement of irrigation channels.

Influential factors in determining a farm households’ decision to adapt to climate change and water stress include: age of the female, frequency of contact with extension officers, drought severity and credit facilities. Negative factors for farmers’ adaptation decisions included age of the male household head and household size.

Policy recommendations from Tahmina’s work include easier access to climate related information, wider access to education for females, ensuring institutional support for farmers, e.g. extension officers, climate change adaptation strategies that consider gender-specific differences and region-specific government policy for climate change adaptation.

Project lead: Mohammed Mainuddin

More information

More reports, fact sheets and information are available on the SDIP publications page.

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