Ninety-nine percent water used by the slum population in Dhaka contains faecal contamination, which causes various diarrhoeal diseases and consequently malnutrition, mostly to children, says a new study.
The contaminated water has faecal coliform [bacteria] over 100 colony forming units (cfu) per 100-ml of water, posing a serious health hazard to its users, the study finds.
In explaining the situation, the study says the slum people collect water from the last point of water supply by the Water and Sewerage Authority (Wasa) [for instance, water taps] and store it in different reservoirs for household use. The contamination happens during the time in between, it adds.
The findings of the study, conducted early this year, were presented at a discussion jointly organised by WaterAid Bangladesh, Brac University, Lancaster University of the UK, and The Daily Star at The Daily Star Centre in the capital yesterday.
While presenting the findings, Dr Manoj Roy, lecturer at the Lancaster Environment Centre of the University of Lancaster, said, "We are talking about safe water for all in the arena of Sustainable Development Goals [SDG], but the findings indicate a difficult situation."
For the study, researchers collected 480 water samples -- both from the last delivery point of Wasa and the water stored for households use -- from four slums of Dhaka.
Dr Manoj said, "We have tested water samples from the slums having Wasa's supply water. If almost 100 percent water of these slums is found with faecal contamination, the situation would be worse in the slums using open or other water sources," he said.
Some 30 percent of slum population [estimated 4 million] in Dhaka have access to Wasa's supply water.
Prof Abdur Rob Mollah of zoology department at Dhaka University, also a researcher of the study, said water samples collected after the last delivery point had 99 percent faecal contamination.
He said supply water on its way from the production point to the households may be contaminated due to pipe leakage. But, that was found much less in this study, but more in water collected after the last delivery point.
"This can happen because of dirty reservoir tanks, glasses, buckets, unwashed hands, insects and rodent vectors," Dr Abdur Rob said.
WaterAid Bangladesh's Country Director Dr Khairul Islam said Bangladesh made a progress by 2015 that 97 percent people use water from improved water sources, meaning either supply or tubewell water.
"Now, during the SDG era we are talking not about improved source, but of safe drinking water. From that perspective, it may be 68 percent people who drink safe water if we consider arsenic and faecal contamination," he said.
Citing recent studies, Dr Ishita Mustafa of icddr,b said one third of the country's under-five children suffers from chronic malnutrition. It is widely believed that poor hygiene and sanitation combined with unsafe complementary food predisposes infants and young children to malnutrition, she said.
Dr Dibalok Singha, executive director of Dushtha Shasthya Kendra, said the slum people mostly do not have gas supplies; therefore, they are less capable to boil water for drinking as the other urban people can. He suggested that Wasa should use sodium hydrochloride for water purification.
Dr M Feroze Ahmed, vice chancellor of Stamford University; Prof Ferdous Jahan of public administration at Dhaka University; Dhaka Wasa Honorary Chairman Dr M Habibur Rahman; Joseph Halder, head of advocacy at the NGO Forum for Public Health; Alok Majumder, country coordinator of Bangladesh WASH Alliance; Dr Suresh Kumar Rohilla, programme director of Centre for Science and Environment, India; Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan, associate editor at The Daily Star, also spoke at the discussion moderated by Liakath Ali, director (programme and policy advocacy) at WaterAid Bangladesh.