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WORLD WATER DAY 2011: Call for concerted efforts to ensure the rights of safe water

Dhaka, 22 March 2011: Amid widening inequalities, rapidly expanding urban areas and increasing unavailability of safe water, speakers urged for urgent action at a national seminar in Dhaka to mark World Water Day 2011.
The Government of Bangladesh, several non-government organizations, bi-lateral development partners, and the United Nations jointly declared their commitment to ensure the right to safe water in Bangladesh.

Dr. A.F.M Ruhal Haque Minister of Health and Family Welfare was the chief guest, while Ad Spijkers, the UN Resident Coordinator a.i and Mr. Abu Alam Md. Shahid Khan, Secretary of Local Government Division, Ministry of the Local Government and Rural Development & Co-operatives presided over the inaugural session. Dr. Takao Toda, Chief Representative of JICA Bangladesh, was the special guest.

The theme of the World Water Day 2011 is ‘Water in cities – responding to the urban challenge’. The water supply and sanitation sector development plan released yesterday by the Government of Bangladesh estimates a budget gap of 47 percent, or about US$1.4 billion for water supply and sanitation sector between 2010 and 2015. 

 'Actions have been taken to address water quantity, quality and security issues by several United Nations agencies in Bangladesh.' said Ad Spijkers, UN Resident Coordinator a.i. 'Concerted efforts by the government and all stakeholders are necessary to meet the urban and rural challenges in Bangladesh, including to close the growing gap of inequalities in rapidly expanding urban centres and to ensure the right to safe and clean water to all' he says.

By 2035, more than half of Bangladesh’s population will live in urban areas – an estimated 110 million people. About 35 percent of the population of the city corporations lives in slums, and does so on only 4 percent of the land area where basic urban social services including water are lacking. The investment need for urban and rural water supply between 2010 and 2015 is estimated to be USD 2.36 billion and 0.64 billion, respectively.

According to the Joint Monitoring Programme of WHO and UNICEF a great cause of concern is that access to improved drinking water sources in urban areas of Bangladesh has declined from 88% in 1990 to 85% in 2008.

In slums where there is no formal provision of water, sanitation drainage or waste disposal services, middle men (mastaans) control access to water brought in often from illegal sources and charge exorbitant prices. Such water is frequently contaminated by pathogens, 6.2% of water samples from urban areas contain greater than 0.05 milligrams per litre of arsenic, which is the Bangladesh drinking water standard, according to MICS 2009 report by BBS and UNICEF.
In a survey in 2009 about the living conditions of the urban poor in Bangladesh, 58% of all respondents reported water-sanitation-hygiene related diseases in their households during the three-month period preceding the survey. Such diseases have strong impacts on the work force, income generation and education e. g. causing school children to miss their classes due to diarrhoea according to the Local Consultative Group on urban sector.

According to the Understanding Urban Inequalities in Bangladesh report by UNICEF, many social development indicators relating to water are often worse for slum areas than they are for rural and other urban areas.  For example, the under five child mortality rate is 95 per 1000 live births for urban slums, 44% higher than rural areas.  A particular problem for Dhaka is the declining water table caused by extensive pumping of the groundwater. This calls into question the sustainability of the water supply for this mega city. 

Despite significant progress, 13% of drinking water samples tested in 2009 contained unsafe levels of arsenic (> 0.05 milligrams per litre) putting an estimated 22 million people at risk of developing numerous arsenic related diseases. In addition, a staggering 5.6 million people are exposed to levels greater than 0.2 milligrams per litre.

 New data in the National Drinking Water Quality Survey 2009 by BBS and UNICEF showed that about 40% of drinking water samples contain more than 1.0 milligrams per litre of iron (which affects taste) and that 35% of drinking water samples contain more than 0.4 milligrams per litre of manganese which may affect human health.  The removal of iron and manganese although simpler than removal of arsenic from drinking water, nevertheless is an additional barrier for arsenic mitigation.

The Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE) has proposed an ambitious project to install 60,900 safe water options in 406 priority unions under 73 upazila of 22 districts.  The “very high” and “high” priority unions were identified in a study, Situation Analysis of Arsenic Mitigation 2009 by DPHE and JICA. The Government of Bangladesh has expressed an interest to establish a multi-sectoral arsenic mitigation fund to address issues in health, water supply and agriculture.
Non-government organizations began to work on improving access, assisted by development partners and in partnership with water authorities. “Dhaka WASA has begun a programme to bring the slum areas into our water network,” says Mr. Khan, Managing Director of Dhaka WASA, “As a result, substantial number of slum areas have new legal connections provided through NGOs. We are struggling hard to reach 100% coverage, although the non-revenue water loss (system loss) has decreased from 34% to 29% over the past one and half year.”
While addressing the closing session Chris Austin, Country Representative of DFID Bangladesh, says “Twenty million Bangladeshis drink arsenic affected water, and forty million risk losing their fresh water supplies. This calls for strong partnership between government, civil society and donors: the UK will continue to play an active part.” Three presentations were made in the technical session: Challenges and the way forward for City Water Supply in Bangladesh, Challenges and the way forward for rural and urban water supply in Bangladesh and partnership for urban water supply respectively by Eng. Taqsem A Khan, Managing Director, Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, Mr. Ihtishamsul Haque, Superintending Engineer, DPHE and Mr.Rrafiqul Islam, Senior Project Office, Asian Development Bank. The technical session was chaired by Dr. Aninun Nishat, Vice Chancellor, BRAC University

Note for Editor:
Mr Abul Maal Abdul Muhith Finance Minster attended the first High-Level Meeting of the Sanitation and Water for All global partnership hosted by UNICEF on 23rd April, 2010 in Washington, DC. IN the meeting he said “we have doubled the allocation for water and sanitation.  Development doesn’t simply mean good income but also good living. We require long term commitment and commitment not simply for the fulfilment of the MDG targets but fulfilment of the basic objective of providing good water and improving sanitation for all.

For more information contact:

• Engr. Md. Nuruzzaman, Chief Engineer, Departhment of Public Health and Enigneering, Tel: (+88) 02 9343358
• Engr. Taqsem A Khan,   Managing Director, Dhaka Water Supply & Sewerage Authority, Tel: (+88) 02 8116792
• Arifa S. Sharmin, Communication Manager, Communication and Information Section, Tel: (+88)02 9336701-10 Ext 7021, Email:



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