Five-month-old Nazmul was crying continuously and his mother Monowara (30) was trying to calm him down. She said her baby boy had been suffering from diarrhoea for two days. Apart from breastfeeding, she was now feeding him rice saline for recovery. Being poor, it was not possible for her to take him to a doctor and get proper treatment.
Little Nazmul’s cousins Shamima (1 year old), Musa (7 years old) and Tajmahal (11 years old), often suffer from diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases. All of them were members Jonap Ali Kazi (65)’s family that lived on khas land beside the Chunkori River Bank Road, around 5 km from Chalna pourasabha under Dakope upazila in Khulna district. “The only time I dare to buy drinking water is when my grandson needs it. We cannot even afford to install a water tank to harvest rainwater. Almighty has left us with no choice but to rely on the river,” said Jonap Ali.
The river water is first sedimented and then treated with alum for drinking. Most other poor families in the area meet their demand for drinking water in the same way. They are so poor that they cannot afford to regularly buy RO treated water available in Chalna or install a water tank for rainwater harvesting. The entire Dakope is highly prone to salinity.
The river water remains fresh only for three months from September to November each year. The rest of the year it remains more or less saline. “Salinity is our biggest sorrow, it is not only causing water-borne diseases but also causing quite a number of health hazards including high blood pressure and hypertension during pregnancy,” said Ananda Lal Saha, a former medical technologist. People often visit him with gastric problems, high blood pressure and diarrhoea. He believed that salinity in drinking water was the main cause of such health hazards. He, however, added that due to initiatives by a number of NGOs like Rupantar, Heed Bangladesh, World Vision, Friendship etc. and UN agencies like UNICEF to provide RO or PSF based safe drinking water, the high prevalence of such health hazards was reduced.
One such NGO was Rupantar that had several RO based and community-managed safe drinking water plants in Dakope and surrounding areas. It also initiated a project named WEWE under which a group of vulnerable women were operating RO based water treatment facilities and sell water to the community at an affordable price. The project also aimed toward economic empowerment of women by turning them into water entrepreneurs.
“We are experimenting on developing a sustainable drinking water business led by women that have a two-fold aim – economic empowerment of women through group entrepreneurship and provide safe drinking water to the community at an affordable price”, commented Ashik Rubaiyat, Project Manager, Enhancing Climate Resilient WASH in Dakope upazila.
Beside different NGO led initiatives, the private sector is also investing in RO technology-based safe drinking water business. One such entrepreneur is Abdul Alim, the proprietor of JomJom Pure Drinking Water with a price as low as BDT 0.50 per litre for self-picked service and BDT 1 per litre for home delivery. “I can meet hardly 20% of Chalna’s demand for safe drinking water. We need more plants in other parts of Dakope and remote areas of Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira districts,” said Abdul Alim. He said the government should come up with a comprehensive policy to attract more entrepreneurs to the drinking water business.
Dakope is an example of the worst-case scenario of the drinking water crisis in the coastal regions of Bangladesh. But it has also created an excellent learning opportunity to combat water salinity by promoting community-based drinking water projects as well as encouraging the private sector in this area.