A project of the General Economics Division of the Bangladesh Planning Commission funded by the Government of the Netherlands

  • WATSAN workshop participants stress on sustainability and adaptability

    WATSAN workshop participants stress on sustainability and adaptability

    The Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) hosted the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 consultation workshop on Water Supply and Sanitation (WATSAN) on 4 March 2015. Ms. Khaleda Ahsan, Chief Engineer, DPHE chaired the workshop. Despite the ongoing political unrest in the country, there was extensive participation with over 30 delegates from the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), the Local Government Department (LGD), the Policy Support Unit (PSU), Dhaka WASA, and BDP team of consultants.

    After the opening presentation about the project’s objectives and activities by Mr. Giasuddin Ahmed Choudhury, Deputy Team Leader of the BDP 2100, experts engaged in the area of Water Supply and Sanitation presented a summary of their baseline study. Ms. Ismat Ara Pervin, Associate Specialist at Institute of Water Modeling currently involved in the BDP 2100 in the WATSAN team, explained in her presentation how salinity in Bangladesh will increase between now and 2080. Projections also include the number of people being affected directly by salinity intrusion, up from the current 5 million to 15 million people in 2080. She also stressed the importance of bridging knowledge gaps in Bangladesh without which policymaking cannot be fully informed. She pointed out that adequate data does not exist in industrial water use and demand patterns and that a mapping of deep aquifer has not been carried out.

    Mr. Fred de Bruijn, Manager of Water Supply Unit at Witteveen+Bos, also the Key Expert in the Water Supply and Sanitation theme of the BDP 2100, mentioned that the workshop being hosted by DPHE is crucial, since they are the primary stakeholder. He commented that it is always more effective to work in partnership with existing institutions instead of creating new ones through a project, since the former is more likely to be a sustainable approach. He spoke about urbanization in Bangladesh and how it acts as a main driver for the WATSAN sector, and also theorized how the capital Dhaka serves as a precursor of what is likely to happen to the other urban areas of Bangaldesh, such as Chittagong, Sylhet and Khulna.

    In addition to arsenic contamination and surface water management, Mr. Bruijn discussed the issue of open defecation. “Although open defecation has been brought down to negligible levels on an individual scale and this is a big accomplishment, institutional open defecation could be as high as 90% in Bangladesh,” said Mr. Bruijn, drawing information from key informant interviews that he has conducted in the baseline study phase. Institutional open defecation refers to the fact that sewage eventually ends up in open sewers, lakes and rivers after they are collected by sanitation authorities. Special circumstances such as post-disaster water supply management was also discussed. Speaking about cost of solutions and affordability, he mentioned that pricing of water and various sanitation solutions will be a crucial factor in Bangladesh, since a lot of the target groups who need these services cannot afford to pay for it.

    The workshop was useful in generating valuable feedback on the current status of the baseline study. Some of the feedback include the need to become more concrete in strategies suggested in the BDP 2100, to bear specific expectations and context in mind for Bangladesh, and to widen the focus to integrate sanitation-drainage interference. The issue of sustainability was brought up and discussed, since, maintenance and upkeep of structures and investments are a difficulty at the local level. A number of the participants commented that 2100 is too far away and it is not feasible to plan so far into the future, and added that there needs to be short term and medium term plans to build on, leaving room for policies to be adapted as the future emerges. The adaptive planning approach to be used in the BDP 2100 coincides with this line of thought.

    Ms. Rokeya Khatun, Senior Capacity Building Expert at Gender and Water Alliance commented that gender issues need to be considered in the WATSAN sector since distance to safe water and ease of access is directly linked to harassment of women in Bangladesh. If women have to travel great distances to find water, they are more likely to be victims of abuse. Ms. Khatun is currently involved in the BDP 2100 team of consultants, advising thematic experts on gender issues.

    Speaking at the workshop, Mr. Rashedul Huq of DPHE mentioned that the adaptability of people of Bangladesh needs to be taken into account in order to frame effective policies. He cited the example of tube wells, which people are habituated with. He mentioned that other alternative water sources have not been as successful because people are resistant to change and a lot of investment in human resource development and awareness building is required in order to change the mindset of the people. “People of Bangladesh still think of water as a free good, not as a scarce commodity that costs resources. This needs to change,” opined Mr. Huq.

    Mr. S.M. Moniruzzaman, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) Adviser at the Policy Support Unit (PSU), present at the workshop, mentioned that the PSU is working on an Arsenic Mitigation Plan which will be made available in draft form soon and this could be useful for the BDP 2100 consultants to look into.

    At the end of the presentations and open discussion, Ms. Khaleda Ahsan, Chief Engineer, DPHE and the chairperson of the workshop, thanked everyone for their valuable contributions, saying, “Access to safe water is a basic human right, and Bangladesh is already operating beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with access to safe water for 88% of Bangladeshis and open defecation at only 3%. But we must strive to improve the situation further.” She thanked the Government of the Netherlands for their support in formulating the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100.

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