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Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Bangladesh: NGO, Slum Dwellers Surmount Water and Sanitation Problems in Dhaka
January 2006

Slum dwellers in Dhaka, Bangladesh have a reason to celebrate now that they have a better water supply and sanitation system, thanks to the efforts of the Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), a non-government organization founded by doctors. PERSUASIVE DOCTORS The miserable life of the slumdwellers in Dhaka, Bangladesh attracted the attention of some doctors. In 1988, these doctors set up an NGO called Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK) with the goal of seeking better ways of providing community health care to the poor. Dr. Dibalok Singha, who heads DSK, explains that they first started with a free clinic every weekend. But with more and more patients coming in with similar symptoms of diarrhea, dysentery, and skin diseases, they soon realized that improving health in slums means setting up a better water supply and sanitation system first. Under Bangladeshi law, the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) is not permitted to provide water connections to people who do not hold title to their land. This measure was designed to reduce the flow of migrants to the cities. The unfortunate result is that the poor are consigned to being landless illegal residents in the city, excluded from DWASA's water supply system. DSK first tried to install hand pumps in the slum areas, thinking that they could draw water from shallow tubewells. But DWASA's deep tubewells do not leave enough water at the shallow levels. So DSK persuaded DWASA to provide water services to the poor people living in slums. Finally, the head of the public utility decided to approve two water point connections to the poor areas. "I still remember the then managing director of DWASA actually demanding that if the squatter communities failed to pay, we would have to pay from our own account. DSK agreed to this condition," recounts Dr. Singha. Today, this water supply and sanitation program in the slums of Dhaka draws worldwide attention, especially from the People's Republic of China and the United Kingdom.

THOSE POOR WEARY WOMEN "Look, this is our water pump, shared by 16 households," says Hasina, a resident of a slum area called Baganbari, as she points happily at the newly completed pressurized well. Just three months ago, Hasina and other women living in the area used to have to walk 3 kilometers every day carrying heavy water jugs on their heads to buy drinking water from street vendors. One jug contains six liters, which is all the drinking water an entire family has for a whole day. Baganbari is less than 16 kilometers from the city center of Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh, which houses all the modern commercial and office blocks. But here, there is no clean water supply, no electricity, and only a dirt road leading to the slums. Residents have no free education or medical services. Men in the community go out every day in the often vain hope that they will be employed as cheap day laborers to be able to bring back enough money to buy drinking water. Women walk long hours to buy meagre yet expensive water from street vendors. The cost of water bought in bottles and jugs is ten times the normal price for water through a tap from the public utility. This slum community is near a dirty and almost dry socalled "river." This "river" provides them with all their water needs for day-to-day activities, from washing clothes and vegetables, to coking and bathing. Their only toilet facilities are bamboo cages over the canal where their human waste goes into the same water they use for everything else. "We have no choice but to live here. My family's house in the countryside was washed away in the flood," says Rashiada, who has lived in this slum for three years.

A COOPERATIVE COMMUNITY The cost of the new infrastructure for water supply and sanitation was borne initially by DSK, but became a capital loan payable by members of the community. The agreement, signed by the community with DSK, calls for the total cost of the infrastructure to be repaid over 30 months, with an initial grace period of six months. Following a community meeting, each family' share in the infrastructure cost and their corresponding share to the monthly water bill were computed according to their personal circumstances and their ability to pay. The community committee that manages the provision of water and sanitation is made up entirely of women, indirectly improving the status of Bangladeshi women in the social structure of this Muslim country. The poor slum dwellers have a 100% repayment record, and are never late with their payments. Dr. Singha says "People in slums know that this costs less money than buying water from street vendors. Also the water is cleaner. So they understand the economics and also appreciate the opportunity cost of having to walk to collect water. They really value the water." INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM

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DSK's approach to supplying water and sanitation services to slum areas has been recognized by international donors. A delegation of Chinese officials visited Bangladesh to see what lessons can be learned about how to extend clean drinking water and sanitation to poor communities through the communities' own initiative and micro credits rather than depending on the government. Just recently, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development provided the UK NGO WaterAid with a grant to support the program, hoping that it could serve as a model for other NGOs to copy.

_______________________________ Based on an article written by Ms. Wang Ning , a correspondent from the China Economic Times in Beijing who just completed an exchange assignment with the Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh. It was written on 28 December 2005 and translated from Chinese. The article first appeared in Elite Reference Weekly newspaper (Qingnian Cankao). The views expressed in this article are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. Terminology used may not necessarily be consistent with ADB official terms. *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in January 2006: The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADBs member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADBs Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.