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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. As CSIRO’s Research for Development Alliance funded Bangladesh Integrated Water Resources Assessment has recently reported, 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).

This is part of further work between researchers and policy makers from Bangladesh and Australia to understand the sustainable level of water use, particularly groundwater use, for irrigation in the northwest region of Bangladesh.


Through groundwater and water balance modelling research CSIRO found that groundwater irrigation is the main factor behind current self-sufficiency in rice production. It was also found that the 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.

Project lead: Mainuddin Mohammed

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