UK Department for International Development (DFID)
DFID fund UNICEF to provide water and environmental sanitation programmes in Bangladesh. DFID Country Representative Chris Austin discusses DFID’s commitment to working alongside UNICEF to improve the living conditions of people in Bangladesh.
The UK is a major donor of UNICEF’s Water and Environmental Sanitation (WES) programmes in Bangladesh. Why are these issues of importance to the UK Government, particularly in Bangladesh?
Water and sanitation are central to achieving our poverty reduction objectives.
Every 20 seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies from water–related diseases. In Bangladesh, 75 million people do not have access to a hygienic toilet. And over 30 million people do not have adequate safe drinking water. Unless we tackle these problems children will continue to die needlessly. Millions of days of work or schooling will be lost to avoidable illness. Women and children will continue to be burdened with the daily drudgery of fetching water. And girls will continue to drop out of education because schools have no toilets.
What improvements have you seen in the projects you support in Bangladesh recently (particularly in regard to WES)?
Over the past three years we have helped 1.8 million people to access safe water and over 7 million to have improved sanitation. The recent independent impact assessment shows that this is making a real difference to peoples lives. Families are spending significantly less on medicines and losing fewer days work to diarrhea related illness, so they have more money to spend on food and education.
Have you recently visited any local-level projects and seen first-hand the impact they are having on Bangladeshi communities?
I have visited several urban and rural areas to see UK aid in action. For example, the Mirpur Tekpara slum in Dhaka, supported by UK government, WaterAid and Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK). When the project began in 2003, the slum’s 2,300 people had only two latrines, drainage was very poor, with frequent water logging – especially during the monsoon – and little understanding of how to maintain even basic environmental hygiene. Now they have 20 hygienic cluster (53 chamber) latrines.
Hasna Banu lives in this slum. For her and the others living in that slum, DSK’s work has meant that chronic diarrhoea and skin diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation are now becoming a thing of the past.
What are your priorities in the coming year with regards to work you are sponsoring in Bangladesh
Bangladesh remains one of UK’s five priority countries for improved water and sanitation. We will continue to support UNICEF’s work with government, and broad based poverty reduction projects such as the Urban Partnership for Poverty Reduction and the Chars Livelihood Programmes. These programmes should improve access to latrines for more than 5 million of the poorest people in urban and rural areas, and access to safe water for at least one million people.
The UK supports programmes in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin American. How, in your opinion, is Asia (and Bangladesh in particular) progressing to meet the MDGs?
Out of the total 900 million people in the world without safe drinking water 468 million are in Asia. Amongst 2.5 billion people without sanitation 1.79 billion are in this continent. Reaching the MDG targets remains a big challenge. If Asia is to achieve the MDGs, national and international partners need to pull together. This means focusing our efforts around the ‘five ones’ framework - through one annual global monitoring report and one high-level annual meeting at international level and nationally through one national plan for water and sanitation, one coordinating body and one lead UN agency.