In Quest of Safe Water for Rural Bangladesh
Eng. Fariduddin Miah
Project Director, DPHE - WB Project and Additional Chief Engineer,
Pre Bangladesh Strategy
It has been a long time since the rural people of Bangladesh are thriving
for a dependable 'Community water supply' for their domestic use. In the
1950's, untreated surface water from river or pond was mostly used as water
sources to meet drinking and other domestic demand. As a result, the incidence
of diarrhea and water borne diseases were prevalent causing heavy toll
of human lives every year. During this period District Councils were primarily
responsible for providing water supply in the rural areas.
In the context of combating water-related diseases during the 1960s,
ground water was identified as safe potable water free from pathogens.
The indigenous hand operated drilling technology (sludger method) was then
available. During this period, Basic Democrats of union parishad were involved
in the program. Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) used to
deliver tubewell materials to the Basic Democrats and a lump sum amount
as installation cost were allocated to them through SDOs (Sub Division
Officers) to carry out installations. This Program could not meet the demand
of the community mostly because of absence of appropriate institutional
mechanism for service delivery and resource mobilization.
Post Bangladesh Strategy
There was no remarkable intervention for safe drinking water through
public sector till the emergence of Bangladesh. Since 1973 massive program
for sinking shallow tube wells were introduced by DPHE with the assistance
of UNICEF. Since then the DPHE was identified to take lead role of water
supply delivery in rural areas and a decentralized institutional network
up to thana (upazila) level was established in the early 1970's.
Basically a supply driven strategy and top-down planning were followed
in the implementation of the program. Since then Union Parishads were delegated
to take decision on selection of sites only while DPHE took the responsibility
of installation through contractors. It was observed during evaluation
of the program that community had least control over the quality and cost
of installation, part of which was also born by the beneficiaries. The
cost of tube wells has been increasing over the years and the allocation
of tube wells mostly favored the influential community, as a result the
program could not reach the low-income group in most cases. This situation
was more acute in low water table area (Tara pump) and coastal belt (deep
The sinking of shallow tube wells was intensified during 1980, in the
UNICEF assisted program of DPHE, introducing the so-called controversial
'Self help program'. The program was designed to deliver the materials
by DPHE to the authorized person of the Chairman of the Union Parishad
and the installation cost was born by the users. The program could not
make headway for lack of appropriate mechanism of ensuring quality control
Due to high level of advocacy for using tube well water for drinking
and other domestic purpose, the private sector and NGOs were encouraged
to install more shallow wells in rural Bangladesh with adequate regard
to the chemical quality of the ground water. Where the shallow ground water
contains high level of iron exceeding 5 ppm, the water quality was not
appreciated by the consumers. In the coastal belt, shallow wells were not
feasible due to high concentration of salinity and until deep drilling
technology were introduced shallow wells containing salinity of about 500
ppm were used as safe water option for the rural community having no other
Lesson Learned from Past Programs
- In the past ground water quality surveillance and monitoring were inadequate.
The community and the public sector were not adequately aware of the qualitative
aspect of the water.
- The impact of arsenic on health and the knowledge of mitigation option
are yet to be explored. Systematic scientific study and data base management
was absent, and there is a need for geographical information system (GIS)
to be established for planning Purpose.
- The supply-driven approach in service delivery could not meet the need
of the low-income group. Demand driven approach for water supply delivery
should be initiated for sustainability.
- There is a potential demand of community water supply and the involving
community in planning and implementation may lead sustainable operation.
- The capacity building of the local govt. institutions (Union/Gram Parishad)
to ensure sustainable water supply system demand increased participation
of the community in planning and implementation.
Scenario of Arsenic Contamination in Ground water
Ground water of Bangladesh contain arsenic was known to the community
only in 1994. The patients with arsenic pollution were initially detected
in the bordering area of Bangladesh with primary initiative of Dhaka Community
Hospital and NIPSOM. Increasing numbers of patients have been identified
through limited field survey with the assistance of UNDP and Ministry of
Health. The Department of Public Health Engineering also initiated water
sampling program through 4 zonal laboratories with assistance of WHO /
UNICEF / DFID since 1994.
The analysis of about 31,651 samples indicate that:
- 51% of wells contain > 0.01 (mg/l) of arsenic
- 35% of wells contain > 0.05 (mg/l)
- 25% of wells contain > 0.1 (mg/l)
- 11% of wells contain > 0.25 (mg/l)
- 3.0% of wells contain > 0.5 (mg/l)
- 0.15% of wells contain > 1.0 (mg/l).
Arsenic Contamination: By Division and Nationally
||Affected thanas, % of total
thanas, % of all thanas in country
Note: Table shows affected thanas, where Arsenic Concentration
in groundwater is > 0.05 mg/l.
Source: DPHE/DFID Regional Arsenic Survey, 1998.
The Need for a New Approach to Service Delivery
Arsenic crisis added a new dimension in the 'Community Water Supply'
demanding scientific investigation, reviewing of the past strategy in program
delivery, arsenic mitigation technology development and additional resource
mobilisation. In response to the new crisis, the Local Government Division
of the Ministry of LGRD & Co-operatives with the assistance of the
World Bank & SDC launched an investment project since July 1998. The
project will cover various issues related to the arsenic mitigation in
a sustainable manner. The agreed action plan will include the following:
- National screening of all existing tube wells in order to establish
comprehensive database for planning priority intervention areas.
- Identify mitigation options, reliability and community acceptance.
- Exploring potential of Community-based Organisation and strengthening
Gram Parishad to take the major lead role in planning, implementation and
operation of the community water supply system.
- Introducing Arsenic Health Education & Sanitation Awareness (AHESA)
Program in the community.
- Development of short term and long term community based investment
program with cost-sharing principles between community and the project.
- Implement sustainable community based water supply infrastructures
and establishes institutional arrangement to operate the system.
- To ensure Govt. Policy and strategy for water sector development through
capacity building of local Government Institutions (Gram Parishad) and
other stake holders and establish linkage with national sector agencies
(DPHE & DGHS) for overall co-ordination and surveillance.
- The role of NGOs has been identified as support organisation to assist
the project implementation in planning and organising community efforts
for implementation and operation of the system and local resource mobilisation.