Bangladesh

Capturing water fit for drink, in Bangladesh

UNICEF and partners are providing a clean, safe alternative to the water in Bangladesh that, for much of the year, cannot be drunk, or even used for crops.  Download this video

 

By Mark Dummett

UNICEF and partners are installing rain water collection and storage systems to provide a clean, safe alternative to the water in Bangladesh that, for much of the year, cannot be drunk, or even used for crops.

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 28 October 2013 – There’s so much water in Bangladesh that it is hard to imagine that, for much of the year, a lot of it is undrinkable. 

When it is not raining, the rivers in the coastal region become full of seawater, and the groundwater is also heavily saline.

It’s a problem that UNICEF is determined to tackle.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
There is a barrage of water during the monsoon in Bangladesh, but a lot of it is undrinkable.

During and after monsoon

“At this time of year, we’re in the middle of the monsoon – there is water everywhere,” UNICEF Bangladesh WASH Specialist Peter Ravenscroft explains. “But, if you come back in six months, you'll find that the water around us is saline. It’s unfit for drinking, it’s unfit for using, to irrigate their crops – at that time, there’s no rainfall. During the dry season that follows, people suffer terribly.”

UNICEF has teamed up with scientists from Dutch company Acacia Water and Bangladesh’s Dhaka University to address this problem. Together, they have devised a new system whereby rain water can be collected during the monsoon and then stored for later use underground. As it flows there, the drinking water displaces the saline ground water, and can be pumped out later on, after the monsoon.

This is the first time this technique has been tried in such an environment.
The first test site was established at Assasuni, in Satkhira, close to the Indian border, in 2010.

“The water quality here was not usable, so, because of infiltration of this natural rain water and pond water, we are creating a fresh water buffer underneath,” says Dr. Kazi Matin Ahmed, of Dhaka University’s Geology Department. “So, three years ago, there was no source of drinking water here. Now, people are getting water from this well, and every day a few hundred people come here for their water for drinking purposes,” he adds.

“We don’t get sick anymore”

Not only is the water cleaner and safer than other sources, but, because it is held underground, it is also protected from the cyclones and floods that often hit this region.

Since 2010, 20 test sites have been established.

Users of the water say that it is cleaner than the sources upon which they had previously relied, and the health of their families has improved.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Video
UNICEF has teamed up with scientists from Dutch company Acacia Water and Bangladesh’s Dhaka University to devise a new system whereby rain water can be collected during the monsoon and then stored for later use underground.

According to Chandana Ray, of Gangaram village, “We used to drink water from another well, but that water was dirty and made us ill. Now, we only take water from that new well. The water tastes good, and we don’t get sick anymore.”

Towards community management of water

In September 2013, UNICEF agreed with the government to extend the project to 100 locations so that more people can benefit.

The next challenge is to work with communities to ensure that the system is sustainable.

“Our commitment is to build this scheme in a way that they can be managed by the community and work for 10 to 20 years – until, ultimately, a public water supply comes,” says Mr. Ravenscroft. “But, for many, many thousands of people in Bangladesh, perhaps millions of people, this is one, two or three decades away.”

That’s a long wait for the children of the region, who can be the worst affected by poor water supplies.

UNICEF hopes other organizations will now copy this technique – not just in Bangladesh, but in other countries, as well.


 

 

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