| Table of Contents, Dec 1998 DCH Intl As Conf | West Bengal India & Bangladesh As Crisis Info Centre |


In quest of safe water for rural Bangladesh

Eng. Fariduddin Miah

Project Director, DPHE - WB Project and Additional Chief Engineer, DPHE

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 aquifer zone).

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 and accountability.

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 choice.

Lesson Learned from Past Programs

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:

Arsenic Contamination: By Division and Nationally

Division Total districts Arsenic affected districts Total thanas Arsenic affected thanas Affected thanas, % of total thanas Affected thanas, % of all thanas in country
Dhaka 17 16 134 61 45% 12%
Chittagong 11 7 93 21 22 % 4%
Rajshahi 16 16 127 35 27% 7%
Khulna 10 10 63 42 66% 9%
Barisal 6 6 38 18 47% 4%
Sylhet 4 4 35 34 97% 7%
Bangladesh 64 59 490 211   43%

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:

  1. National screening of all existing tube wells in order to establish comprehensive database for planning priority intervention areas.
  2. Identify mitigation options, reliability and community acceptance.
  3. 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.
  4. Introducing Arsenic Health Education & Sanitation Awareness (AHESA) Program in the community.
  5. Development of short term and long term community based investment program with cost-sharing principles between community and the project.
  6. Implement sustainable community based water supply infrastructures and establishes institutional arrangement to operate the system.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.


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