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Rain to Tech: Bangladesh's Water Resilience

Rain to Tech: Bangladesh's Water Resilience

Highlights:

  • Over the past 15 years, through various development projects, 11,24,800 safe water sources, 110 rural piped water schemes have been established.
  • In urban areas with arsenic, iron, salinity, and water table problems, 1484 production wells, 17,779.05 km pipe has been installed. 
  • In the Cox’s Bazar district, a total of 3,192 wells, including 1,000 deep tube wells, and 5,100 sanitary latrines have been installed.
  • To enhance the accessibility and efficiency of water source identification, specialized software has been developed.
  • . Across 39 unions in Khulna and Satkhira, a total of 228 community-based rainwater harvesting plants and 41 pond-based plants have been set up.

The rural water supply system in Bangladesh relies predominantly on groundwater sources. To ensure the effective use of water and reduce dependence on groundwater, the government has taken initiatives to increase the utilization of surface water, improve rainwater harvesting, and implement various projects for surface water purification. 

Continuous efforts are being made to establish community-based water supply systems employing submersible pumps, tube wells with pump units, and community-driven piped water supply systems. The promotion of surface water use in rural areas has resulted in extensive excavation and re-excavation of ponds.

Additionally, there has been widespread public encouragement for the conservation and utilization of rainwater. In three mountainous districts, the implementation of the Gravity Flow System (GFS) aims to store water from mountain springs for various purposes.

In most municipalities across the country, water supply systems have been implemented through pipelines under the current Government. To ensure sustainable water use, there is a concerted effort to reduce dependency on groundwater and increase the utilization of surface water and rainwater harvesting, as directed by the honorable Prime Minister. 

Bangladesh, in the realm of sanitation, has globally recognized practices, aiming to achieve basic sanitation and foster open defecation-free environments by minimizing the disposal of feces and urine in open spaces.

Transforming Rural Bangladesh: 15 Years, One Million Safe Water Sources

The Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) is a government agency responsible for providing and maintaining water and sanitation services in Bangladesh. Since June 2009, the DPHE has initiated 89 projects to improve water supply, sanitation, and waste management across the country. Out of these projects, 42 are still in progress in the current fiscal year of 2023-24, while 5 new projects have received approval from the government.

The DPHE has achieved remarkable results in the past 15 years through its various development projects. According to its official website, the DPHE has established 11,24,800 safe water sources, 110 rural piped water schemes, 15,610 mini piped water supply systems, 1062.43 km drainage, and 69 high water reservoirs in rural areas. These interventions have increased access to safe and reliable water for millions of rural people.

In addition to rural areas, the DPHE has also implemented several projects in urban areas where water quality and quantity are major challenges. The DPHE has addressed the issues of arsenic, iron, salinity, and water table problems by constructing 1484 production wells, 17,779.05 km pipe installation/replacement, 95 new ponds excavation, 878 pond re-excavation works, and 159 water treatment plants. Moreover, the DPHE is currently working on 553 village piped water supply schemes to provide piped water to more urban households.

Besides water supply and sanitation, the DPHE is also involved in waste management projects to ensure a clean and healthy environment. The DPHE is currently implementing 89 development projects, including 8 in municipalities and 2 in sub-districts, for solid waste and fecal sludge management. Furthermore, the DPHE has conducted feasibility studies for challenging and sustainable waste management in 61 district towns as part of an engineering project.

The DPHE is also collaborating with other partners to implement two innovative projects on inclusive and integrated sanitation and hygiene. The first project, named “Integrated Sanitation and Hygiene (Integrated Challenging and Human Waste Management Project)”, aims to increase access to inclusive urban sanitation services in 10 priority towns of Bangladesh. The second project, named “Inclusive Sanitation Project in 25 cities of Bangladesh (GW-FAO-IWBI)”, seeks to improve sanitation infrastructure and services in informal areas of selected 25 cities. These projects are expected to benefit about 2.9 million people, especially the poor and vulnerable groups.

Another area of focus for the DPHE is the expansion of safe water sources and improved sanitation facilities in government schools. The DPHE has completed the construction of 56,490 safe water sources and 55,075 wash blocks in approximately 65,566 primary schools. These facilities will help to improve the health and hygiene of school children and teachers, as well as reduce the risk of water-borne diseases.

How Bangladesh Taps into Rainwater for a Sustainable Water Future

To enhance water resource management, the esteemed Prime Minister has issued directives to implement essential measures. These measures aim to reduce dependence on groundwater while promoting increased utilization of surface water. Simultaneously, there is an emphasis on rainwater conservation to address the growing water demand. 

Ongoing initiatives aligned with these directives encompass the establishment of Surface Water Treatment Plants, Reverse Osmosis Plants, Nano Filtration Units, Solar-powered Pond Sand Filters, Rainwater Harvesters, and similar facilities. These projects focus on purifying surface water and are integral components of various initiatives. 

Furthermore, concerted efforts are underway to encourage the public to actively participate in rainwater conservation and usage. In specific mountainous districts, Gravity Field Systems (GFS) have been implemented to effectively preserve waterfall water resources.

To tackle the challenge of ensuring access to safe drinking water, the Gender-responsive Coastal Adaptation (GCA) Project, a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Green Climate Fund, and the Government of Bangladesh, has been actively engaged in addressing water-related issues along the south-western coast of Bangladesh. 

As part of the project’s ongoing efforts, 106 households have benefited from this initiative, providing a sustainable solution to the pressing water scarcity issue in the region. Across 39 unions in Khulna and Satkhira, a total of 228 community-based rainwater harvesting plants and 41 pond-based plants have been set up as part of the GCA project, a collaborative effort led by UNDP Bangladesh in partnership with the Women and Children Affairs Ministry and the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE). 

Each residence has the opportunity to retrieve 10 liters of water daily from the facility by utilizing their prepaid cards, with a cost of 25 paisa per liter.

“It’s truly astonishing, but the tank’s capacity is a whopping 2000 liters. Acquiring a tank of this size is beyond what I thought I could manage. For those of us residing in coastal regions, we face various hardships, and the most daunting of them all is the lack of adequate drinking water.”  

-Panna Begum, a beneficiary of the GCA project.

Residents in Manikkhali, are utilizing the monsoon rains to supply their communities with accessible and uncontaminated drinking water. This initiative is part of several projects supported by the Local Climate Adaptive Living facility (LoCAL), which is not only yielding positive outcomes but also empowering communities to strengthen their resilience against climate change.

Community leaders and social workers pinpointed the scarcity of clean water sources as the central developmental challenge in their community approximately 6 years ago. After conducting a series of climate adaptation assessments, a Performance Based Climate Resilience Grant amounting to US$ 11,428 was sanctioned to support the rainwater harvesting initiative, ultimately safeguarding lives in Manikkhali. 

Presently, there are 30 operational rainwater harvesting systems, each boasting a capacity of 1,000 liters of water. With a modest investment of US$ 25 per family, over 450 impoverished families now enjoy access to potable water for the next decade to fifteen years.

Government and Healthcare Unite in Battle Against COVID-19 and Rohingya Community Development

Successful implementation of over 4,000 handwashing stations at key locations was achieved through the government's partnership with leading healthcare institutions in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the umbrella of UNICEF’s comprehensive development program in each district, a sum of 1 lakh taka had been allocated for the acquisition and distribution of bleaching powder and hygiene kits. Furthermore, an additional 40,000 taka had been earmarked to sustain active WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) services in municipalities. 

In the Cox’s Bazar district, a total of 3,192 wells, including 1,000 deep tube wells, and 5,100 sanitary latrines have been installed to accommodate individuals identified as Rohingyas. Additionally, 14 mobile water treatment plants and 7 floating water carriers, each with a capacity of 3,000 liters, are facilitating the supply of safe water across various camps in the Ukhia and Teknaf upazilas.

Moreover, 640 bathing facilities specifically designed for women have been constructed in 11 shelter camps. The ongoing initiatives, backed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank, aim to enhance water supply and sanitation facilities within camps established for Rohingya communities. 

These comprehensive projects encompass the development of 48 pipe water supply systems, 28 mini pipe water supply systems, 10 mini fecal sludge treatment systems, 2 fecal sludge and solid waste treatment plants, 2 water reservoirs, 400 water sources, 3,000 latrines, 500 biofil latrines, 70 community latrines, and 500 bathing facilities.

Leveraging Smart Solutions for Water Quality Assurance

In the realm of water management and sanitation, the integration of digital technology has become pivotal in preserving crucial information. One significant aspect is the digital preservation of data concerning safe water sources and sanitation facilities.

Furthermore, the utilization of digital technology has extended its reach to the management of procurement activities. This ensures a streamlined and sanitary approach to the procurement process, emphasizing cleanliness and efficiency. Smart technology plays a key role in ensuring the quality assurance of water. Through the application of intelligent systems, digital preservation techniques are employed to safeguard critical information related to water quality. 

To enhance the accessibility and efficiency of water source identification, specialized software has been developed. This software focuses on identifying suitable water sources based on union-level criteria, leveraging the capabilities of digital platforms. In tandem with these efforts, an online database has been established with a specific goal in mind – the collection of accurate and error-free information. 

Technological mapping has played a crucial role in creating a curated list of appropriate technologies for union-based water supply. This comprehensive list, enriched with relevant information on both surface and groundwater, is readily available for use by all stakeholders involved.

As Bangladesh strides toward a future characterized by resilience and water security, its comprehensive initiatives serve as inspiration for regions grappling with similar issues. The country has dedicated efforts to establish secure water points, enhance rainwater harvesting, and elevate water quality. 

Additionally, it actively involves local communities, with a special focus on women and youth, in managing transboundary freshwater systems and addressing water insecurity. These progressions underscore the success of strategic planning, community engagement, and innovative solutions in fostering a healthier future not only for Bangladesh but also for other regions facing comparable challenges.

Sayed Hasan Al Manzur
Author

Sayed Hasan Al Manzur

Editor-In-Chief

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