Shamsul Alam (55) is a tea stall worker and heads a family of 7 members. He entirely depends on tube well water for drinking purpose. His wife, daughter and daughter in law collect drinking water from a nearby tube well and drink it directly. He considers this safe. He has no understanding of whether this tube well water contains any harmful element. Neither he nor the tube well owner ever thought of testing the water.

Hasan Mia (45) runs a family of four members. He hardly earns Tk 12,000 to run his family for the whole month. He is a day labourer at a tea stall who works 30 days a month to keep pace with his financial needs. Her wife and daughter collect water from a nearby supply tap installed by Kurigram pourashava. His 4-member family needs almost 30 litres of drinking water every day. After paying the house rent for two tiny rooms with a shared latrine and kitchen, he does not even dare to think of any other comfort except buying food and groceries. When asked, he underscored the importance of drinking safe water to stay away from water-borne diseases and remain healthy. He came up with an indigenous solution to make drinking water safe. “I saw my father doing this and I just follow the same – I completely rely on homemade water filter made of coal, sand and brick,” said Hasan Mia. “I know it is not safe but what else can I do?” he added.

Hasan Mia and Shamsul Alam are not lone examples of being exposed to water-borne diseases. Kurigram’s poverty rate is 60 per cent compared to the national poverty rate of 24.3 per cent. And 96.8 per cent of its total population of 2.069 million depend on tube well water. There is no specific data, but the presence of a high level of Iron and manganese makes tube well water undrinkable. Besides, high exposure to natural disasters, like flash floods, and climate vulnerabilities also affects access to safe drinking water.

Although Kurigram is a riverine district with 16 rivers and an approximate 150 bils (wetlands), access to safe drinking water is a far cry. However, a good number of people who are a bit well off have their means of safe drink water. They mostly extract groundwater and then filter it for drinking through water purifiers marketed by multinational companies.

When asked for a possible solution, both said that the government may consider community-based water safe drinking water project that would supply safe drinking water to certain localities. Engineer Md Saihan Ali, executive engineer, DPHE, Kurigram echoed the same idea but lamented “DPHE does not have enough financial resources for such projects. Our annual budget is allocated to perform routine tasks and no other budget is available”. He raised the maintenance issue. Even if the budget was allocated for such project, there should be sufficient resources for maintenance. Considering resource constraints of the government, he suggested public-private partnership under which DPHE would provide technical support for installation and maintenance to any private entrepreneur or community-based water project committee who would, on the other hand, earn revenue and meet the management costs. “If we can make this happen in reality, SDG target 6.1 (by 2030 achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all) will be easily achieved,” he concluded.