Innovation to solve the water crisis among coastal communities in Bangladesh
Located in Khulna District in Bangladesh, the installed reverse osmosis plants with ATM booth, are providing drinking water to the local communities.
A water kiosk system installed in Dacope with the help of the community, local entrepreneurs and government stakeholders, decreased the problem of safe drinking water in the upazila (sub-district). Shapna Biswas, an inhabitant of the sub-district, told that she recently bought an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card and got the opportunity to collect safe drinking water with that card when she needed. Earlier she used to collect water for household consumption by conserving rain and pond water. Now, the water ATM booth is a blessing for thousands of households in the sub-district. Local business person Sankar Kumar rightly mentions, “I can buy a liter of mineral water with only 40 paisas, what else is better than this?!”
In 2007 and 2009, two successive strong cyclones called SIDR and Aila, had severe effect on the southern-coastal belt of Bangladesh and intrusion of saline water polluted the water sources in several Upazilas (sub-district) of the district. Moreover, excessive cultivation of shrimp in Gher (A kind of bigger pond), which requires salty water, deteriorated the situation. As a result, community people constantly struggled for getting pure drinking water all around the year.
The disasters made drinking water scarce, and people urged the government to solve the problem. But, local government representatives informed about their insufficient capacity in terms of staff and resources to improve the situation. There are excessive iron, arsenic contamination and salinity in the shallow tube well water. Moreover, in some parts of the Upazila, the deep tube wells don’t function due to unavailable underground aquifer. Community people usually buy drinking water collected from safe sources such as Reverse Osmosis Plant. The other sources of drinking water in these areas are rain water harvesting plants and pond sand filters (PSF), where people can collect safe water without spending money. But, these sources are inadequate and sometimes contaminated with bacteria for lack of regular maintenance. Also, these water points are at locations far away from home. In most families, it is usually the women and adolescent girls who are responsible to collect the drinking water from these far-flung places. It has implications on time and contributes to the burden of their productive role in the households.
So, when Rupantar – a local NGO, has installed the Reverse Osmosis plant with ATM booth facility in the Upazila, the community people sighed with great relief. Many of the respondents from surrounding areas told that the water plant will not only meet the water needs, but also make sure the community is secured from various water-borne diseases. Amirul, the caretaker of the water ATM, also said, “People stand in queue to collect water with ATM card from the machine every morning and afternoon”.
This Reverse Osmosis plant has been installed with the generous support of a private bank from their corporate social responsibility (CSR) fund. Rupantar has coordinated to avail the fund and managed the process of the plant’s installation. Though Rupantar established it, the organization’s project manager mentioned that the municipal authority in Dacope sub-district will supervise the maintenance and management of the plant. The inhabitants will pay only 40 paisa in exchange for one liter of safe drinking water and the management authority saves the amount in a bank for using in the plant’s maintenance. By extracting and treating underground water, the water treatment plant is capable to supply 1600 liters of safe drinking water per day. The municipal authority will offer ATM cards primarily to 600 households and will gradually increase the number. Sanat Kumar Biswas, the Mayor of the Municipality, told that people usually would depend on pond and rain water, and suffer from various water-borne diseases. Now, this water treatment plant will meet the sweet water needs of the residents as wells as protect them from different water-borne diseases.
While the reverse osmosis plant has been proved effective in Dacope, there are still many sub-districts such as Shyamnagar, Koyra where people are literally using pond and other contaminated sources of water. These kinds of innovative installation system along with its proper maintenance can truly solve the problem of safe drinking water in those locations.