Water scarcity affects more than 40% of people around the world – an alarming figure projected to increase further with rising global temperatures. The members of Dhaka’s lower income communities were no strangers to this reality, walking long distances to stand in endless queues for water, at the cost of their families and household income. Today, thanks to the joint efforts of Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (DWASA), local NGOS Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), SPACE and BASA, the French NGO Water and Life, and community leaders – with support from the European Union and the French Development Agency (AFD) - residents of these areas now have water supply connections in their communities.
Under its Asia Investment Facility, the European Union has delegated a grant of 5 million euro to AFD. An agreement signed between AFD and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh seeks to mobilize this grant towards establishing water points within several low income communities in Dhaka city, building the capacity of these communities to operate and maintain the water points, and providing hygiene education to community members. The grant also supports DWASA with the design of a long-term financial plan that will enable the Bangladeshi water authority to optimize its investments in addition to providing training to the team’s professionals.
Connections may be of two kinds: a shared water fountain for the entire community, or individual connections for every household. Both models empower residents of the areas by allowing for easy, accessible water points, with no middlemen. With this project, residents of lower income communities not only have access to water, but the costs and risks associated with collecting water are also reduced, making the lives of many women and young girls easier. Till date, approximately 2000 water points have been installed, thus giving access to drinking water supply to more than 150,000 persons and with the population of these areas growing, the number of beneficiaries may increase even further.
Swapna, a 25-year-old, speaks of the struggles she faced: “Think of how difficult it was to carry water from a faraway place back to my home here. The long distance had practically eaten up all my time. And then there were days when we couldn’t manage even a single drop of water!” Has there been a difference since? “A great one!” Swapna exclaims. “In the past, we paid good money to water suppliers, but got no receipts or bills to keep. Now we pay as per our consumption, and get a copy of the water bill.” Life is definitely more comfortable with the water being supplied to their doorstep too. “The time I save can be invested in more productive activities and spending quality hours with my family,” says Swapna.
Also, Fatema Akter, the General Secretary of Nagar Doridra Bosthibasi Unnayan Sangstha, has thanked Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) for engaging with the community while implementing the project. “It is good to see that they saw the necessity of involving the locals in the work. If the community is engaged, the outcome is a more sustainable one. That is what we see in this case,” Fatema proclaims. Today, each member of the community has access to a water point that they manage independently, without relying on any third parties. With the new water supply, residents are saving time and money. “They are involved in more income-generating activities using their spare time,” explains Fatema. “They can store the water they require at a convenient time, and use the rest of the day for other work.” Economic change also brings social change with it. With women contributing to the finances of the family, a positive change in the mindsets of their husbands can be observed too, she remarks.
The project has made possible a sustainable and replicable economic model for water supply systems in low income areas. Stakeholders have vowed to keep the initiative intact with an expansion plan. Moreover, DWASA has benefitted by the improved management of its network and the reduction of unbilled water, with its functioning now increasingly professionalized within these informal settlements.
“With this project, we have seen a development model which puts forward a sustainable solution to the water crisis. Countries around the world can come and see how things change when there is a collective and sincere effort made” says Fatema.