Residents in remote areas of Bangladesh have started an intense struggle for drinking water due to discriminatory budget allocation for these areas and a relentless destruction of ecology – especially in hilly areas.
Only 5.44% of the annual development program was allocated for the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector for FY2021-2022, while a higher percentage was allocated for urban areas compared to remote, char, hilly, coastal and underdeveloped areas became.
A recent study by the Power and Participation Research Center (PPRC) states that 59% of Bangladeshi residents have access to safe drinking water, while 39% have access to safe sanitation facilities. According to UNICEF, one in five or 19% of schools lack safe drinking water, affecting up to 8.5 million school children.
Woe to the hills, to the coast, to remote areas
Ananta Dhamai, a resident of southeast hilly Khagrachari district, said that quarrying stones from natural mounds, waterfalls, mounds and other water sources for commercial purposes in hilly areas and cutting down large trees in hilly forests are the main causes of disappearing water sources be in the hills.
“Of course, the water sources in the hills dry up during the dry season. But these mountain rocks hold drinking water below them, which the people here in the hilly regions use in summer. But in recent years, the indigenous people in the hills run from hill to hill in search of water, but come back empty-handed,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Increasing collection of rocks from natural waterfalls has destroyed water sources in hills because those sources could not hold water during the dry season, said Dhamai, a member of an indigenous community.
On the other hand, hills become so dangerous for people’s movement during rainy season. The grinding down of hills and the illegal collection of rocks and rocks make the hills prone to landslides. And waterfalls in the hills become mammoths in the rainy season, limiting water collection, Dhamai said.
“So many influential people in the hills have set up social afforestation and destroyed natural forests. But plants or trees such as teak and eucalyptus, acacia are not suitable, rather destroying the ecology of the hills. Not even a bird comes close to these three,” said the indigenous rights activist.
Experts urged the government to install tap water because the rocky environment makes it impossible to install deep pipe wells in the hills.
Concerns about drinking and household water remain the same for residents of coastal areas. Bangladesh has 19 coastal districts with a total of 42 million inhabitants. Sea level rise, cyclones, tidal waves and constant flooding have affected the region’s drinking water sources.
Saleha Banu, 56, still has to walk at least 3 miles to get fresh water for her family of six in Koyra sub-district of southwestern Khulna district, as the rainy season salt water contaminated their nearby fresh water source.
Saline has already affected her eyes and skin like hundreds of others in her village, she told Anadolu Agency.
According to the Satkhira District Health Ministry, salinity levels in some areas are as high as 4,400 milligrams per liter (mg/L), compared to the allowable threshold of 1,000 mg/L.
Budget discrimination keeps the situation unchanged, experts say
Hossain Zillur Rahman, academic and policymaker, told Anadolu Agency that inequality in budget allocation between urban and rural areas is among the main causes of the prevailing poor water supply situation.
“We see a big gap in budget allocation between Dhaka and other cities. A similar situation continues in cities and remote areas such as Haor, hills, coastal areas, northwestern remote villages.”
The Dhaka Water Supply Authority takes the lion’s share of the WASH budget, he said. “Project implementation capacity remains a major challenge for Bangladesh,” said Rahman, a leading political voice on governance and policy development.
“We used to only focus on ensuring a water connection between underground spring water and pipe wells, but now we need to ensure safe water to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals proclaimed by the United Nations).”
“Waste management is a major challenge for Bangladesh to ensure clean water and sanitation,” he said, suggesting the use of rainwater in those areas, including Dhaka.
The government undertakes projects to alleviate suffering
Admitting to the drinking water situation, Areef Anowar Khan, senior engineer at the Planning Division of the Department of Public Health Engineering, said officials had referred a WASH project using funds from the Asian Development Bank to higher authorities for final approval of the Chittagong Hill tracts.
“The government has already approved a 10 billion taka (US$1 billion) project for the upcoming 2022-23 fiscal year to provide safe drinking water by storing rainwater to meet the water needs in all coastal districts because rainwater the only cost effective method is in the coastal belt.”
Meanwhile, saltwater desalination has been carried out using solar energy to provide drinking water for coastal schools, he said.
“We have started providing water (on a pilot basis) to families in areas like northwestern Chapainawabganj and Rajshahi district by installing submersible water pumps during the dry season as people here face water shortages during the dry season,” he said.
Stressing the use of rainwater, he said the authority has issued a mandatory building code in Dhaka to use rainwater reserving technology.
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