Monowara Begum (30) has been living in the Beguntila slum in Mirpur for 12 years. Memories of the last rainy season still haunt her. The water she used to collect after waiting in long queue for hours was unsafe.
As the water connections were illegal, these were drawn from unhygienic latrines or open drains. Her neighbour Shahana used to face similar problems as she collected water from an unprotected pond near her house. Moreover, both of them were unable to boil water due to limited access to gas facilities.
Monowara had to share a clay stove with eight to 10 families, which was fuelled by expensive firewood. Consequently, during the rainy season last year, her daughter Rehana was near the verge of death due to cholera. Most of her neighbour's children also suffered from different waterborne diseases like hepatitis, diarrhoea and so on, particularly during the rainy season.
This picture is quite common for the other slums of Mirpur as well. Greater Mirpur's slums reflect many of the poor symptoms of a high growth of population without a similar growth in services. Limited access to safe drinking water drove many toward drinking polluted water from unprotected hand-dug wells and ponds. A 2013 survey data mentioned that only 20 per cent people in slums boiled their water before drinking. This fact is distinctly more evident when we observe that the patients admitted in the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research Bangladesh (ICDDRB) Hospital in Dhaka, 31,588 (12 per cent) came from the Mirpur area and among them 41 per cent suffered severe dehydration. Though, National Water Policy of Bangladesh ensures access to water for all citizens, slum dwellers do not have any holding number, on one hand. On the other hand, the slums are either located on government land or private land. Thus, Dhaka Water Supply & Sewerage Authority (DWASA), the local government authority for providing legal water connection, was a bit hesitant to provide water connection in the slum areas.
Because, though DWASA has a policy for ensuring water connections to the slums of Dhaka by 2017, they are not properly equipped with adequate resources to provide legal water connections in all the slums of Dhaka. Also, there is a common perception that the slum-dwellers would not be able to pay for the legal water connections.
To address this challenge and also need of the community, World Vision Bangladesh, a prominent international non-government organisation, in collaboration with other NGOs, began implementing Citizen Voice Action (CVA) approach from 2015 with an aim to ensure access to safe water for the slum-dwellers. CVA is a local advocacy tool to ensure rights of the communities that have been guaranteed through the policies or other approved documents.
In a workshop, the women living in slums of Mirpur identified limited access to safe water as the priority for them. 225 females and 25 males from nine slums of Mirpur formed a group to advocate their demand with DWASA. They got to know that the Water Policy of Bangladesh ensured the provision of safe water for all the citizens of Bangladesh. They were also informed about the target of DWASA of ensuring water access to all the slums of Dhaka. The slum-dwellers were trained on how to negotiate with the service providing agencies.
Even, the slum-dwellers felt very enthusiastic to pay for the legal water connections as they realised that after getting the legal water connection, they would pay even less in comparison to the amount they used to pay for illegal water connection. Monowara Begum said, "At times, earlier, we had to pay Tk 5-10 for buying one glass of water. Still, we did not get clean water all the time."
The group members were linked to the department of community programme and consumer relations department of DWASA. The group members also facilitated a series of meetings and dialogue with DWASA. They organised a public hearing with DWASA to ensure access to safe water in the presence of community people and representatives from local NGOs. From the meeting, the community people and service providers came to a consensus that service mechanism can be improved by identifying shared responsibilities with given timelines. At the same time, the community members committed to DWASA officials that they would pay their water bills regularly. DWASA also committed to provide water connection at the slum areas of Mirpur. Later, the people from the community applied for water connection and DWASA approved 43 legal water connections for six slums (Beguntila, Teker Bari, Rahmat Camp, Bhola, Duyaripara, Ta Block) of 2,150 households. Now, 3,323 children from these six slums have access to safe water connections.
After getting the water connections, the slum dwellers are now more motivated toward achieving their rights. Recently Shahana said, "Now, we are paying even less and getting safe water. Also, our children are comparatively healthier than last year." Another slum-dweller, Mohsin Mia, from Beguntila slum said, "Now we know that we have rights too. We know the contact number of the service providers. We can go to DWASA and even discuss with the high officials also." Dwellers from the other slums are also looking forward to getting legal water connections soon so that their children can also suffer less from waterborne diseases in this coming rainy season.
The incident shows that the citizens and representatives from local government/ service providers have the capacity to solve critical problems. At the same time, if citizens become aware of their roles, responsibilities and commitments, they can hold their service providers accountable.
Bipasha Dutta is National Coordinator- Knowledge Management, Research and Innovation of World Vision Bangladesh.
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