Ensuring safe drinking water

Rahman Jahangir | Tuesday, 2 August 2016

It is certainly a piece of good news that the government will make its unrelenting efforts to guarantee 100 per cent safe drinking water coverage by the year, 2020. But a pertinent question arises here. It relates to as to how only 63,000 water sources in rural areas that are now being planned, will meet the national needs. A recent report published in this paper mentioned the concern of experts on this matter that was expressed at an event in the capital city.
Bangladesh is otherwise dotted with countless rivers and rivulets. All concerned do need to rethink, quite seriously, about what real practicable steps can be taken on a priority basis in order to meet the water needs of its ever-increasing population in both rural and urban areas to achieve the target of ensuring safe drinking water to all by 2020. Such a re-thinking is all the more important because the water sources of Bangladesh are gradually fast drying up and getting polluted. The water crisis that now grips the country involves matters about both scarcity and quality. The country has surely made some progress in supplying safe water. Yet gross disparity in its coverage still exists in many areas. Breakout of diarrhoeal diseases almost in an epidemic form, particularly among children, is still a yearly phenomenon.  
These diseases have close biological and socio-economic links to the problems of malnutrition, poor maternal health, high fertility, and child survival. The planned re-excavation of only 952 ponds and digging of 200 new ones by the local government, rural development and cooperatives (LGRD) ministry, as reported in this paper, will be too inadequate to face this problem of national dimension. But then again, a beginning has to be made somewhere at the earliest, before it turns into a serious potential danger to its social security.  
The harsh reality today is that nearly 60 per cent of the country's population has to live with unsafe drinking water. The availability of water itself also greatly fluctuates throughout the year; the warmer season brings massive amounts of water in frequent monsoons and the cooler season entails drought. The infrastructure cannot adequately deal with the barrage of water in monsoon season. Thus, water cannot be saved then for the drier months. Of the water that is available, over 80 per cent is used for agriculture. Both the UNICEF and WHO statistics show that around 26 million people of Bangladesh do not have access to safe drinking water sources.
Meanwhile, the UN Legal framework relating to the peoples' right to water as well as the sustainable development goals (SDGs) that the world body has adopted, acknowledge globally the importance of making safe drinking water as well as sanitation facilities available everywhere. It is incumbent upon the member-states of the world body which have already ratified the specific conventions that uphold the peoples' right to water and sanitation, to do the needful in pursuit of the goals. Bangladesh is one of the signatories to it and related covenants. But its situation, as of now, is quite disconcerting on this count.
The recent findings of a survey by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) indicate that almost half of its household drinking water is unsafe at source due to arsenic and contamination. An overall 12.5 per cent of the population fetches water from arsenic-contaminated water points. Such revelations lend a great deal of urgency for revisiting the country's water quality percentage points at the earliest, and also for making all efforts to expand the coverage of piped water facilities in the rural areas in order to ensure water security of its populace. As the government has targeted ensuring pure drinking water for all by 2020, hard actions are thus critically important for the country to fulfil its target in a much more convincing way.
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