Boats on a river in Bangladesh.


Water is Bangladesh’s blessing and curse. For nearly half the year, the monsoon rains cause the country’s three major rivers, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, and their tributaries to swell. Devastating floods are often the consequence. During the rest of the year, the dry season brings almost no rainfall, and droughts threaten the livelihoods of people and the health of the natural environment.

The Kaptai Dam, inaugurated in the early 1960s, was the first large dam built in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) and is still the only large hydropower project in the country. More than 22,000 hectares of arable land and 18,000 houses were flooded to make room for its reservoir. No resettlement was provided for the 100,000 indigenous people from the Chakma and Hajong tribes who lost their lands and homes. Most of them migrated to India, in what they termed Bara Parang ("exodus" in the local Chakma language).

In the 1990s, groups in Bangladesh started to draw attention to the large scale displacement of the indigenous communities who were not consulted prior to the construction of the dam and were not compensated for their losses afterward. Local communities and civil society groups now fight for compensation for the displaced, as well as against plans to extend the Kaptai Dam and its reservoir, which would lead to the loss of even more biodiversity-rich land.

The government of Bangladesh intends to increase hydropower capacity both in the country and abroad. Large dams in neighboring Burma could in the future provide a new source of hydroelectricity for Bangladesh.

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