Against the backdrop of acute crisis of pure drinking water in the capital leading to an outbreak of diarrhoea and many public sufferings, the city's water supply chief blurted out a long known truth. It is related to drinking safe drinking water. While talking to 'utility reporters' at a press meet in the city on February 5, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) boss admitted the supply of foul-smelling water to some areas in the city. He also said that even he himself was not spared the scourge. The supply water he gets at his Naya Paltan residence is not free of the stench. Admitting faults in Dhaka's water supply lines, the DWASA Managing Director came up with the age-old suggestion to keep the water-related hazards at bay: Boiling drinking water.
It has long been a remedial measure adopted before drinking suspect drinking water. Many residences in Dhaka are used to drinking long-boiled water after properly cooling it. The practice is widespread in the older part of Dhaka. Many selected areas in the 'new Dhaka' also follow the practice. However, finding the process of boiling water in large cooking pots and removing them from the stove cumbersome, many middle-class families have installed electric water purifiers. But overcautious people are found boiling even the purified water. They apparently attach great importance to the safety and drinkability of water, leaving no chance of its being even remotely contaminated.
The trend of boiling the drinking water began being picked by the Dhaka residents in the mid-1970s. It followed the public complaints of the supply water turning smelly and non-transparent in many Old Dhaka areas. A few areas in the 'new Dhaka' were also affected by the scourge. That part of the capital had till then been unfamiliar to the newly independent nation's menace of polluted drinking water. Dhaka became aware of drinking water pollution during the great floods of 1987-`88 which inundated many city parts. During these floods, almost all low-lying areas in the capital, including Motijheel, Lalbagh-Azimpur, Kalyanpur-Mirpur etc went under flood water. Water supply pipes remained submerged for days, and even weeks. The capital braced for a great outbreak of waterborne diseases. And this was what that hit Dhaka unsparingly. In fact, it was the impact of these two floods which had prompted its residents to drink boiled water. Many began using water purifying tablets.
However, the drinking water quality proved better in Dhaka than in the neighbouring Indian state capital of Kolkata. Experts emphasise the fact of Kolkata being older than Dhaka in terms of urbanisation.
When Dhaka households were still stuck in the age of water, lifted in buckets from wells, Kolkata municipality had passed a century of supplying water through roadside hydrants. However, thanks to the widely used domestic wells throughout the then provincial capital, Dhaka could manage to remain free of many communicable diseases. It's also worth mentioning that Dhaka used to be occasionally hit by diarrhoeal diseases during the British colonial rule.
Unlike Kolkata or New Delhi, Dhaka earned the reputation of being a 'healthy city' atmospherically, back in the British times. Filled with large roadside trees, patches of wild bushes, wide grassy fields and ponds in 'muhallas', the city was recognised as a health resort of sorts. When it came to ponds, Dhaka once stood out with its numerous public and private ponds.
The larger of them were known as 'dighis', a common sight in all district towns. The ponds of Dhaka could efficiently meet the city residents' everyday needs for water. The residents having private ponds would use them for bathing only. Many households used others as sources of drinking water. This particular purpose necessitated the ponds' foolproof guarding and preservation. Being dependent on unreliable supply water, the traditional sources, including tube-wells, still earn admiration. Dhaka should have kept the tube-well digging functional.