Water shortages are now affecting over 40% of the world's population and Bangladesh is no exception. The capital, Dhaka, is facing a serious water supply crisis, in spite of the presence of five rivers and several canals, lagoons and lakes. Demand from the population and the city's rapid growth are placing even more pressure on its water resources.
The collective water supply system managed by the public water agency, DWASA (Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority), only covers half the population's water needs. The informal, difficult-to-reach neighborhoods, which are home to 30% of Dhaka's 17 million inhabitants, are therefore marginalized. Illegal connections are more and more commonplace, but they do not guarantee access to clean water, and also damage the public water supply system and sewerage system. Furthermore, the lack of an official water supply service has led to the appearance of water "mafias" that control the supply and charge exorbitant rates to people in need.
The program backed by AFD and the European Union aims to install 3,000 connections in the disadvantaged parts of Dhaka. The work has been entrusted to NGOs specializing in the water sector and local organizations. The beneficiaries are also encouraged to take a responsible attitude to the maintenance of the system and the payment of their bills, thereby guaranteeing the project's sustainability. In Bhasantek, Shobar Jonno Pani (SJP, "Water for All") social enterprise works hand-in-hand with Eau et Vie in Bangladesh. This French NGO has installed individual connections for the inhabitants concerned. It also develops educational sessions on hygiene, the environment and fire prevention and aims to reinforce neighborhood committees by setting up sanitation, fire prevention and waste collection services.
Fatema Akter, General Secretary of the low-income neighborhood development organization, Nagar Doridra Bosthibasi Unnayan Sangstha, thanked DWASA for its commitment to the community when it implemented the project. "It is encouraging to see that they have understood the need to involve the local residents in the work. If the community is involved, the outcome is more sustainable. It's what we have seen in this case", proclaims Fatema. Today, each member of the community has access to a water point that he/she manages independently, without the intervention of third parties.
As an inhabitant of the Korail community and a fervent advocate of citizens' rights, Fatema has seen how low-income communities all face the same problems. "Here for example, in the past, residents had to risk their lives crossing a large, busy road to go and fetch water. Not only did it take a lot of their time, but it also caused a lot of problems."
Furthermore, women sometimes have to give their labor for water or pay the suppliers in cash. "Before, given the complicated arrangements involved in getting water, these women could not work like their husbands and generate income for the family. They could not even lend a hand with other ordinary tasks. All of this also had an impact on family life, causing strife in some cases. Not to mention the pregnant women or elderly people who would have accidents while fetching water."
This project has enabled the inhabitants of Mirpur and other neighborhoods to access clean water and improve sewerage facilities. For people like Ayesha Begum, aged 55, it has been a great relief. "We had to cover such long distances… they were difficult days… I still remember how hard my daughters and I had to toil to fetch water."
The project has also created a sustainable business model, one that is reproducible for all water supply systems in low-income areas. The stakeholders have promised to keep the initiative intact. A plan to extend the project is already in the pipeline. In addition, DWASA has benefited from the improved management of its system and seen a reduction in unbilled water consumption, as its operations are now more and more professional in informal settlements.
Forecasts predict that at least one person in four will be affected by recurrent water shortages by 2050. To provide access to drinking water at a price everyone can afford, it is absolutely essential to invest in water supply infrastructure and sanitation facilities and to promote hygiene at every level in the system.