Drinking water crisis acute in remote South-West region

Saleh Noman, Back from the Sundarbans

As no ease up of the drinking water crisis in the country’s remote South-West region adjacent to the Sudarbans, residents of these areas now depend on commercial water supply of NGOs and individuals. Residents of those areas are being forced to spend a big portion of their income for buying drinking water as they cannot use the natural sources due to extreme salinity in surface water and groundwater.

Through a recent visit to a village adjacent to Sundarbans named Mathurapur, where most of the residents are fishermen, under Munshiganj Union of Shyamnagor Upazila in Satkhira district, it was seen that many ultra-poor people of the village were using saline water of rivers, canals and ponds even for drinking as they do not have sufficient money to buy bottled water or water supplied by NGOs or individuals.

Solvent families in those areas buy drinking water from the NGOs or individual sellers through pipe connection regulated with meter. But many poor people like Aleya Begum (50), a resident of Mathurapur, cannot afford the connection of piped water supply and so collect drinking water from the vendors or sellers at markets.

Aleya said, “The sources of drinking water in our area are not usable as their water is extremely saline. During the rainy season we use and store rain water for drinking. But when there is no rain and stock of water is finished, we are to buy drinking water from vendors. We pay Tk 20 for a bottle containing 40 liters of water and it takes one and a half hours every day to carry it home. We have no other choice.”

When due to some problem one cannot go to fetch water and ask the sellers for home delivery over phone, the price of the same amount of water just becomes double, she added. Abul Kashem Moral, Chairman of Munshiganj union council said a half of the area of the union, which has a population of 45, 000, has no water in the tube wells; and even though some tube wells in other areas have water is not worth drinking due to salinity or for presence of arsenic.

According to the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), crisis of drinking water is taking place in 25 Upazilas across the Sundarbans region of Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat districts, out of which crisis in 12 Upazilas is severe.

Professor Abdullah Harun Chowdhury of the Environmental Science Department of Khulna University told Bangladesh Post, “For decades, large quantity of sea water is being used for shrimp and crab cultivation which has also increased salinity of the soil in the entire area. Due to the effects of climate change, the surface water is not safe for drinking. The ground water level has also gone down remarkably.”

Taking the drinking water crisis as a chance, now NGOs and individuals are doing business in these areas. People have become dependent on this commercial water suppliers, he added.

Pavel Partho, an environmentalist and researcher on the Sundarbans, told Bangladesh Post, “Despite government initiatives, multi-dimensional corporate management on water is growing up. Water is no more a traditional natural resource in this area. So poor people of this area who are constantly struggling for earning enough to buy food, are also to buy drinking water.”

To address the crisis of drinking water in the area, DPHE have been re-excavating all the government ponds and implementing a project ‘Safe water supply project in the rural areas of Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira districts’ at a cost of TK 46 corer.

Mohammad Ismail, A project engineer of DPHE said under these project, hundreds of tube-wells, Pond Sand Filter (PHF) and Reverse Osmosis Plant will be setup. Besides, 40 kilometers of pipe line will also be setup in the areas where there are no fresh water sources. The project will be completed within 2020, he further said.