How drinking water crisis in Mongla decreased

Beneficiaries of BRAC's rainwater harvesting project talking to BRAC officials and journalists. The photo was taken recently from the Balur Mor area of Chila union in Mongla, Bagerhat.
Prothom Alo

Renuka Roy was a teenager when she got married. Renuka noticed there was no drinking water available around her husband’s house. She began collecting water from local Gharami ponds, a task that required her to spend 30 minutes on foot each day. Since then, collecting water has become her daily routine, taking up 3-4 hours of her day.

‘Rich people used to collect water by van or boat, but we didn’t have that facility. It took a long time to collect water from Gharami Pond or Kainbari’s Pond behind a swamp. We didn’t know if either pond’s water was saline or if we were at risk of diseases from that water. With no other option, we drank that water. We became accustomed to drinking it,’ said Renuka Roy

Renuka Roy is now over 60. After her son's marriage, her daughter-in-law took on the task of collecting water for a few years.

Last year, the non-governmental development organization BRAC and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs installed a tank and filter to harvest rainwater in her house.

Renuka said, "It took a long time to get this facility. Finally, a solution has been found!’

Like Renuka’s house Brac installed 4,200 household based rainwater harvesting systems, each with a 2,000 liter capacity in mongla upazilla of Bagerhat District.

According to the organizations information, approximately 24,000 people in Mongla upazila including 11,520 women gaining access to safe drinking water. The facility is provided under the project named ‘Enhancing safe drinking water security and climate resilience through rainwater harvesting.’

Now, not only do most women in Mongla not need to leave their homes, but it also reduces diseases like diarrhoea, said Sabita Biswas, another beneficiary of the rainwater harvesting project. Now I can rear poultry, maintain a backyard vegetable garden, and take care of the pond's fish with the time previously spent collecting water, she added.

Brac says, previously, people in Mongla had to travel distances of 2-3 kilometers to collect drinking water. However, some families are still underprivileged and do not have access to drinking water, said Shipra Halder, a reserved women member of the Chila union in Mongla. Speaking to Prothom Alo, she stated, ‘We’ve tried several methods, but the approach of BRAC to harvest rainwater is sustainable.’

According to the Population and Housing Census 2022 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Mongla's total population is 158,470, with 78,329 being women. BRAC reports that around 67,300 people are affected by salinity, of which 32,048 are women.

Water for Tk 1 per liter

A crowd gathered near Chowridanga Ahmadia Dakhil Madrasah in the Mithakhali Union of Mongla, Bagerhat. They were watching the purification of water lifted from pond using a solar-powered electric pump—a process known as Pond Sand Filter. One of two filters of Brac in Mongla is situated near this madrasah. Local residents were observed collecting drinking water from this purified source.

Water from this filter is being sold at prices ranging from Tk. 30 to Tk. 50, depending on the economic conditions of the nearby families. A total of 250 families are relying on this source for collecting water.

In Mongla, 29 community-based filters to harvest rainwater have been installed by BRAC and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These filters hold between 20 to 40 thousand liters of water each, offering the opportunity to purchase drinking water at Tk1 per liter.

One of these community-based filters has been installed on the premises of Setubondhon Samabay Samiti of Chila union of Mongla. This filter has the capacity to store 40 thousand liters of water at a time. Currently, 25 families are primarily collecting water from this filter.

For drinking water crisis, not household tasks

Sumaiya Akter, a student of Class 10 at Chadpai Mechershah Secondary School, has been affected by skin disease due to the use of saline water and developed spots on her face. Sumaiya expressed her concerns, stating, "We are always affected by several diseases because of using saline water. Many of us are losing our hair, and our skin is fading. I always feel depressed because of these reasons."

According to local people, 10-15 years ago, the impacts of saline water were comparatively lower from mid-October to mid-June. However, this time period has now been reduced. Currently, lower saline impact is observed from the last week of December to April. As a result, for seven months, people have to use saline water for cleaning and household tasks.

Reksona Begum, a resident of Narikeltola Housing Project in Mongla Pourashava, expressed, "Soap does not lather due to the use of saltwater. Neither the body nor the clothes are clean." Additionally, women are experiencing inflammation of the cervix due to the use of saline water during menstruation, she added.

Sheikh Jalal Uddin, Superintendent of Chowridanga Ahmadia Dakhil Madrasah, emphasized the need for special arrangements to carry out household tasks and other activities. He mentioned that Bandhu Foundation, an NGO, installed pipes to provide water to the community for household use. They are supplying purified pond water, which has helped alleviate the water crisis. Jalal Uddin believes that implementing this system throughout the entire Mongla Upazila would further reduce water scarcity.

In the economy of Mongla, shrimp farming played a significant role. However, due to the white spot virus, shrimp farming has been severely affected. Therefore, locals are now looking to return to agricultural activities.

However, Liakat Ali, the director of BRAC's climate change, urban development, and disaster risk management program, commented that the amount of salt mixed with the land for shrimp farming will take 25-30 years to diminish.

He stated, "We have addressed the issue of water management. Now, we are discussing with farmers and considering restarting agricultural activities with the assistance of research."