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Sidr-hit people keep close vigil on community water facility

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2008/Naser Siddique
Md. Khalilur Rahman (Right) of South Telikhali at Bhandaria upazila under Pirojpur district in southern Bangladesh protects the pond sand filter and pond water from all possible harms.
By Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury

PIROJPUR, Bangladesh, 28 August 2008: Even at 70-plus age Md. Khalilur Rahman is quite a hawk-eyed person, especially when it comes to keeping a close watch over the Pond Sand Filter (PSF), the main source safe water in the community.

“The pond has sufficient reserve of water. Nearly 350 families take cooking and drinking water from the PSF. So, I see it as my personal responsibility to ensure the cleanliness of the pond water,” said Md. Khalilur Rahman of South Telikhali, Bhandaria upazila under Pirojpur district.

“Strict vigil is maintained in order to ensure that no one bathes, washes clothes, plates and utensils in the pond. Community is fully aware of the importance of its cleanliness and safety because it is the primary source of safe water,” says Rahman, who is the official caretaker of the PSF and runs a nearby small store. 

In the absence of Md. Khalilur Rahman, another shop-owner keeps an eye on the pond, but the former claims that the community has come together in protecting the pond and its water from being polluted, especially to ward off spread of water-borne diseases in the locality.

Abu Musa, Programme Coordinator of Uttaran, the local implementing NGOs of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector programme, said, “Apart from this PSF, some 10 household-based rainwater harvesting facilities have been set up in the union in the last two months.”

The goal of the WASH sector is to contribute to measurable improvements in public health in the Sidr-affected area by the end of 2008 through efficient, effective and timely implementation of early recovery. Its expected outcomes include increased access of women, children and men to water and sanitation facilities; and action to protect themselves against threats to public health in Sidr-affected areas.

Despite the fact that Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) identified both Bhandaria and Mothbaria in Pirojpur as especially vulnerable to the outbreak of water-borne diseases in the aftermath of cyclone Sidr, diseases were not as widespread as expected. It was mainly because safe water points have been identified and promptly made accessible, claimed Musa, who is responsible for the implementation this UNICEF-funded and Oxfam-supported local level initiative.

The operation of the PSF started since February, 2008. Its maintenance is pretty much easy. The filter has to be cleaned twice monthly for it to remain fully operational, said Md. Khalilur Rahman.         

Meanwhile, in places where there is no access to PSF, ‘chulli’ or stove filters have been installed which are connected to stoves or ovens and can produce 60-70 litres of water daily per household. The installation cost of such filters is around Tk 500 (US$7) but these water filters using innovative technologies have been provided free of cost to 5,500 families in affected communities of Bhandaria and Mothbaria.   

Also describing community awareness as being ‘high’, he informed that for the moment, children including those remaining out of school, were being sensitized on the need for clean water, better hygiene and sanitation practices.

“That is why both in Bhandaria and Mothbaria, the incidence of diarrhoea has been minimal in the post-cyclone times,” he claimed, adding that 506 health service volunteers are active in Bhandaria and 510 in Mothbaria.

However, lack of sanitary hardware has somewhat slowed down the progress in setting up or reinstalling sanitary latrines in places where those have been destroyed, informed locals.                

“Although we have worked among 9,000 families in Bhandaria, we could give latrine support to 2,972 families mainly due to inadequate hardware support. So, we need 7,000 more sanitary latrines to cover the gap,” said Musa. 

However, he was happy that UNICEF’s contract with his organisation has been extended up to November 2008, under which 2,000 more families would get sanitary latrines, 4,500 families would get ‘chulli’ filters and hygiene awareness programmes will be hyped up.   

“We have already started the process of addressing the sanitation issue. Since Sidr, UNICEF Water and Environmental Sanitation (WES) section supported 11 NGO projects. Sanitation is a priority focus and we hope our cooperation with NGOs will bring positive changes,” commented Arthur T Kodua, Chief, WES Section, UNICEF.

The WASH initiative is currently worth US$ 17 million with major donations coming from AusAid, Danida, DFID, ECHO, JICA, USAID and UNICEF. The WASH interventions are ongoing and expected to cover at least 80 percent overall progress with respect to pre-Sidr cyclone situation with the available funding.



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