Teaching sanitation to the urban poor in Bangladesh
By Naimul Haq
GAIBANDHA, Bangladesh, 25 March 2009—Mahmuda Akhter is an educated young woman in her 20s. This morning, she is rounding up housewives for an informal meeting. Her mission is to share lessons on personal hygiene, neighbourhood cleanliness, sanitation and using safe drinking water. She is working in a district called Driver Para – or drivers’ area – where low-income drivers’ families live.
During the evening discussion in East Gobindapur, in Gaibandha district town, about 250 km north west of Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka, Mahmuda explains why the residents should spend their time and money constructing sanitary latrines and concrete platforms around tubewells.
Mahmuda, popularly known as Mukta in her neighbourhood, points to a rough sketch of a map hung from a rope and invites fellow housewives to participate in discussion.
“Who owns sanitary latrines and tubewells with concrete platforms?” Mukta asks.
A few hands are raised from the audience, while those without hygienic facilities look shyly at one another.
Although there are 264 people in Driver Para, there are only 6 hygienic latrines. Of 34 water points, 26 do not have concrete platforms to prevent contamination. The areas around the latrines and tubewell are dirty, as no one cleans them regularly.
“Today we will discuss and learn about personal hygiene. Everyone should participate and no one should feel embarrassed about sharing her personal problems,” Mukta tells her audience.
The informal education programme Mukta attends to is part of a nationwide project known as Sanitation, Hygiene Education and Water Supply in Bangladesh.
The project, initiated by UNICEF and the Bangladesh Government in 2007, and funded by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), works to reduce mortality, morbidity and malnutrition due to diseases – especially among women and children – in 31 urban municipalities.
“It is now three months since we started the courtyard discussions here in Driver Para, and you can already see the enthusiasm among the audience,” said Farhana, who works with Mukta as a UNICEF volunteer.
Makta and Farhana also run similar meetings with children and teenaged girls.
The meetings convinced Mosammet Parvin to have her own sanitary latrine at home. Until recently, Ms. Parvin, like many Driver Para residents, was sharing unhygienic latrines and tubewells with her neighbours.
Beyond educating communities, the broader programme is planning to build thousands of latrines – including public latrine facilities – and municipalities will receive support in installing rain water harvesters, new drainage systems and waste composting plants.
Composting barrels and tricycle trucks will also be provided to aid in waste disposal, and provide livelihood opportunities for urban residents. Funds are also available for the construction of 720 water pipe systems to bring safe water to less developed urban communities.