PRINCETON, New Jersey — Bangladesh is a country that suffers from a lack of water and sanitation. About 60% of the population endures unsafe drinking water. Furthermore, about 41% of all improved water sources are contaminated with E. Coli bacteria, which is indicative of high fecal contamination. Arsenic contamination is also a significant problem, with 13% of all water sources containing arsenic levels above the national threshold. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), arsenic contamination has led “to the largest mass poisoning in history.” Roughly 30-35 million people in Bangladesh were affected. In the second-largest city in Bangladesh, Chattogram, the water crisis is particularly dire.
Situated in the southeast of Bangladesh, Chattogram is home to the largest port in the country, and is, therefore, a center of trade. However, it is also home to more than one million people living in extreme poverty. Most of them live in dire conditions in overcrowded slums.
Access to clean water is a major issue in slums and other low-income areas. Impoverished people in Chattogram travel a distance to access wells for drinking, washing and household activities that require water. The accessible water supplies are limited and are not clean or safe. Chattogram has had water sources that contained arsenic and led to waterborne diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid. Moreover, the water is not only unsafe but also expensive. Roughly 1,000 liters of water costs 200 taka ($2.36). This is an exorbitant price for those living on less than $1.90 a day.
The Chattogram Water Supply and Sewerage Authority
Chattogram is now ahead of the curve in providing clean water for most of its residents. With the support of the World Bank, the Chattogram Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (CWASA) launched the Chittagong Water Supply Improvement and Sanitation Project (CWSISP) to increase access to safe water and sanitation and support long-term solutions for the development of necessary infrastructure. Since 2010, CWASA has been working to bring inexpensive and clean water to all people in Chattogram.
CWASA installed 40 taps in one of the largest slums in Chattogram. This made clean water more easily accessible, cutting down the long journeys to distant wells. This initiative has made water much cheaper for those living in slums. Instead of $2.36 for 1,000 liters, it now costs 15-20 taka ($0.18-$0.24) for the same volume.
The project has also helped CWASA to improve its water infrastructure and “prepare drainage and sewerage master plans through 2030.” CWASA was able to modernize utility services, extend its level of efficiency and expand to cover underserved communities. Thanks to CWSISP, water supply capacity in Chattogram increased by a factor of 20 to 3.6 billion liters a day from 172 million liters in 2010.
Water and Poverty
In 2018, the World Bank said that access to clean water would speed up the reduction of the poverty rate in Bangladesh. Poor drinking water quality affects all people but the most impoverished “quintile of the population suffers three times more from water and sanitation-related gastrointestinal diseases.” This creates significant health expenses and reduces the capacity to work and earn an income, both of which push people further into poverty. Investing in proper water and sanitation in Bangladesh directly impacts poverty.
Large city slums experience five times less access to improved sanitation and have the highest rates of childhood undernutrition in the country. “Poor water quality and sanitation can hold back a country’s potential because unsafe water and poor sanitation are linked to nutritional disadvantages in early childhood,” says Sereen Juma of the World Bank. Juma goes on to say that “In Bangladesh, more than one-third of children under 5 are stunted, limiting their ability to grow and learn.” Bangladesh is progressing with regard to access to clean water. This progress can continue if it also focuses on water quality and sanitation issues.
Investing in the Future
In Chattogram, achieving sustainable water infrastructure will require continued commitment. Currently, no part of the city is connected to any form of sanitation system. A comprehensive sanitation improvement strategy has been developed to gradually bring the entire population under a modern sanitation system. The Chattogram Development Authority is in charge of the implementation of a drainage plan to mitigate the drainage water logging problem as well.
The CWASA is the first public utility service in Bangladesh to receive an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification. This means that ISO found that CWASA systems met all the requirements for quality assurance. While getting the certification is a major achievement, maintaining it will be a task that requires planning and budgeting.
Clean water is essential to the realization of all human rights. With sustained investment from the government and NGOs, everyone in Bangladesh, from the wealthy to the impoverished, can access clean water at a low cost.
– Brooklyn Quallen