Establishing and maintaining environmental sanitation, safe water supplies and good hygiene in Bangladesh requires a combination of initiatives:
Two projects are supporting communities in establishing supplies of clean, affordable water, educating children and adults about personal and general hygiene, and protecting public health and the environment by the sanitary disposal of waste products.
Communication for behaviour change
A mixture of mass media and personal communication are used to spread knowledge about hygiene, sanitation and safe water through the population of Bangladesh, enabling individuals, as well as whole communities, to make informed choices. This means that both local and national government, as well as those providing engineering solutions, can respond to the demand from communities for solutions that will meet their needs.
Strengthening local government
The existing local government structures in Bangladesh are strengthened and empowered by the establishment of WatSan committees at district, upazila and union levels. These enable communities to participate in making decisions about what facilities they need to improve hygiene, sanitation and water supply. Conversely, they enable different levels of local government to respond to communities.
This process is supported by locally based NGOs, which plan and work with the government’s Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE). Communities are also trained to develop plans of action using techniques such as Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA).
Working in primary schools
The rural sanitation, hygiene and water supply project in Bangladesh works in primary schools to educate and inform children in order to change behaviour. It also aims to transmit what is learnt in schools to families and the rest of the community in order to spread the ability to make informed choices. The aim is to extend the project to cover more than 5,000 primary schools.
Engineering and building management
Giving the population access to safe water and sanitation facilities requires public health engineering that is affordable, accessible and responsive to local communities. National government needs to be able to develop policies and legislation that can provide local government — particularly the government’s Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), the union and upazila parishads and WatSan committees — with the capacity to meet the needs of the users.
The sanitary engineering and safe water engineering required to monitor, establish and maintain an adequate supply of safe, affordable water must be based on an understanding of good practice in hydrogeology and geochemistry. At the same time, local government structures need to be able to manage the decision-making and building and engineering work that will supply the hardware necessary for a safe environment and clean water.
Reducing arsenic contamination
Arsenic contamination affects water supplies over vast areas of the country. Tackling the problem means establishing a national water quality monitoring system by strengthening and expanding national laboratory facilities, and keeping a national database of arsenic contamination.
There is a need for research into low-cost and effective ways of treating surface water and groundwater as well as improved methods for measuring arsenic in the field. At a local level, people are being educated to be aware of the problem and trained to screen tube-wells using field test kits, with the results confirmed by laboratories. The communities need to be provided with alternative water supplies in areas where more than 60 per cent of the wells are affected by arsenic.