Improving water security for the poor

Coastal water security

The challenge

In south-west coastal Bangladesh around eight million people live inside polders – areas of land enclosed by embankments. These polders were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s to protect communities from tidal flooding and salinity intrusion. While they have brought benefits, such as increased agricultural production and improved transport, badly functioning polders have led to a number of problems.

Communities living in the polders today face multiple water-related hazards, ranging from chronic salinity affecting drinking water quality and reducing agricultural yields, to frequent floods and cyclones that destroy livelihoods and wipe out agricultural production. The interaction of water hazards together with lack of water availability in adequate quantity and quality has a big impact on poverty.

Addressing these coastal water security challenges requires an understanding of the complex dynamics between water security, human wellbeing and economic growth.

The observatory

This study aims to improve understanding of how coastal water risks affect poverty, and to determine the best interventions for improving water security for the coastal poor. Ultimately, this research will help decision-makers make smarter investments in institutions and infrastructure, which not only reduce water risks, but also enable sustainable growth and improve lives.

We will develop a risk-based model of the dynamics of water, climate and poverty, and use the model to test the effectiveness of interventions. We will analyse trade-offs, combinations and sequences of investments such as resilient water infrastructure and drinking water supply systems.

Research questions

  • How does water insecurity influence poverty outcomes?
  • Which interventions help increase the resilience and water security of the coastal poor?
  • What combination and sequences of interventions lead to water security in different contexts?
  • Are the methods to appraise water security interventions transferable to other contexts, especially other coastal areas in Asia?

Research team

Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology: Tanjila Akhter, Professor Sujit Kumar Bala, Professor Shah Alam Khan, Professor Shahjahan Mondal, Md. Mostafizur Rahman, Professor Munsur Rahman, Professor Mashfiqus Salehin,  Md. Saif Uddin

UNICEF: Dara Johnston, Mohammed Monirul Alam

University of Dhaka: Professor Mahbuba Nasreen, Monishankar Sarkar, Sabrina Zaman

University of Oxford: Mohammed Sarfaraz Gani Adnan, Professor Jim Hall, Dr Rob Hope, Dr Sonia Ferdous Hoque

News and blog

Gender and WASH in Emergency: What happens when a super cyclone hits at the height of a pandemic? September 2020
Water security in times of crisis: how COVID-19 is impacting the rural poor in Bangladesh and Kenya, May 2020
REACH Early-Career Researcher Feature | Towards achieving SDG 6.1 in coastal Bangladesh: the key role of groundwater and water quality, January 2020
REACH Early-Career Researcher Feature: Understanding water-logging issues in coastal Bangladesh, July 2018
REACH Early-Career Researcher Feature: How women bear the brunt of water-related risks in coastal Bangladesh, July 2018
In search of acceptable, accessible and affordable drinking water services – A tale of households in coastal Bangladesh, January 2018
Water security and poverty in coastal Bangladesh: can modelling be of help? August 2017
Water on all sides: reflections on Bangladesh, July 2015


Uddin, M.S., Rahman, R. & Salehin, M. (2022) Sustainable management of sedimentation risks in coastal rivers in Southwest Bangladesh: Findings from REACH Khulna Observatory. REACH Policy Brief, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

Barbour, E., Adnan, M.S.G., Borgomeo, E., Paprocki, E., Khan, M.A.K., Salehin, M., & Hall, J. (2022) The unequal distribution of water risks and adaptation benefits in coastal Bangladesh Nature Sustainability 5, 294 – 302.

Fischer, A., Hope, R., Manandhar, A., Hoque, S., Foster, T., Hakim, A., Islam, M. S., Bradley, D. (2020). Risky responsibilities for rural drinking water institutions: The case of unregulated self-supply in Bangladesh. Global Environmental Change 65 (102152).

Adnan, M.S.G., Abdullah, A.Y.M., Dewan, A., Hall, J.W. (2020). The effects of changing land use andflood hazard on poverty in coastal Bangladesh. Land Use Policy, 99.

Adnan, M.S.G., Talchabhadel, R., Nakagawa, H and Hall, J.W. (2020). The potential of Tidal River Management for flood alleviation in South Western Bangladesh. Science of the Total Environment, 731.

Manandhar, A, Fisher, A., Bradley, D., Salehin, M., Islam, S.,  Hope, R., Clifton, D. (2020) Machine Learning to Evaluate Impacts of Flood Protection in Bangladesh, 1983-2014. Water MDPI, 12(2).

Hoque, S., and Hope, R. (2019). Examining the economics of affordability through water diaries in Coastal Bangladesh. Water Economics and Policy: DOI: 10.1142/S2382624X19500115

Adnan, M., S., G., Haque, A., Hall, J. W. (2019). Have coastal embankments reduced flooding in Bangladesh? Science of the Total Environment: 682, 405-416.

Hoque, S., Salehin, M., Arif, S. T., Akter, T., Naz, M., and Hope, R. (2019). A social-ecological analysis of drinking water risks in coastal Bangladesh. Science of the Total Environment: 678.

Korzenevica, M. (2019). Emerging themes on considering water equity. REACH Research Brief, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

REACH (2018). Resilient options for improving drinking water security in coastal Bangladesh. REACH Policy Brief.

Edoardo Borgomeo, Jim W. Hall & Mashfiqus Salehin (2017): Avoiding the water-poverty trap: insights from a conceptual human-water dynamical model for coastal Bangladesh, International Journal of Water Resources Development

REACH (2015) Country Diagnostic Report, Bangladesh. REACH Working Paper 1, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK



‘Water security has a defining role to play in Bangladesh’s goal to achieve middle-income status and end extreme poverty.’

Professor Mashfiqus Salehin, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

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