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“Water, water everywhere, nor a drop to drink”

September 22nd, 2014 by Posted in Resilience

More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes. Nearly all deaths, 99%, occur in the developing world. (Source: ActiveWater)

At Henchi in Satkhira district of Bangladesh, there is a severe shortage in drinking water available to the people. Villagers suffer not from the scarcity of water itself, but the lack of clean water.  Much of the water in the area has been contaminated through increased salinity. Saltwater intrusion is the movement of saline (salt) water into fresh water which can contaminate water sources. The hydraulic connection between groundwater and seawater allows this to occur naturally, but the frequency and intensity of saltwater intrusion has increased in Bangladesh due to recent climate change and subsequent sea level rises. Water in this area has also been contaminated by several man-made reasons and natural disasters. As usual, the poor bear the brunt of these conditions and suffer greatly.

The contamination of many water sources in the village and surrounding areas, means  a long journey to safe drinkable water; villagers often have to turn to contaminated water as a water source. The water is used as a drinking source as well as for cooking, leading to many water-borne infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, and jaundice.

The people in the community therefore express their distress in the saying “Water, water everywhere, nor a drop to drink”. Oxfam sought to intervene.

Resilience through Economic Empowerment, Climate Adaption, Leadership and Learning (REE-CALL) is a long term rights-based project. The project, which was launched in April 2012, aims to instigate social change through economic empowerment, developing women’s leadership, creating livelihood options, and preparing communities to face the impacts of climate change and disasters. REE-CALL continues to build resilience in communities with projects situated all over Bangladesh. A component of Oxfam’s REE-CALL project is Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) which seeks to improve access to safe drinking water throughout the country to improve people’s lives.

Part of the WASH initiative is implementing solar operated Pond Sand Filters (PSF) to clean natural bodies of water that have been contaminated. The Henchi community welcomed the new initiative and offered support for Oxfam and its implementing partner Shushilan.

PSF is a modified version of Slow Sand Filter adapted with continuous water flow to treat the surface water like pond water to produce safe drinking water. The unique feature of Oxfam’s PSF is that it has a solar system to make it fully automated, which was developed jointly by Oxfam and the Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE), Bangladesh.

Women fetching  safe drinking water

Women fetching safe drinking water from the PSF. Photo: Oxfam

One villager disclosed the effects of turning to unsanitary water sources, “Purifying water was very costly, which was not possible for us. So, we had to suffer from diseases very often”, later adding “Thanks to you for setting up the PSF, now I will get more time and care for my granddaughter. Also we will now get power to work from having the water”Duli Bala Mondal, labour woman (49).

The community set up a committee in May 2014 of 11 (5 male and 6 female) members to facilitate the construction and maintenance of the PSF in their village. At the time of construction, the community in Henchi was extremely supportive and assisted in many different ways, such as donating private land for installation, carrying goods, engaging in labour, and housing the labourers. The villagers are very happy to hear of PSF’s operational sustainability due to it being solar powered. Oxfam provided an orientation to members of the committee and training in the tool-kits required in the maintenance of the PSF. The committee has agreed to continue to care for, restore, clean and control its water supply.

PSF installation had certain requirements and Shushilan had to discuss with community based organisations (CBOs) about the preparation of a pond. One of the major difficulties was finding a pond available; most of the government owned ponds had been grabbed illegally by local businesses. The CBOs, with the help of the local government, lobbied to recover the ponds from the unauthorised occupation back into the hands of the people.

The final pond chosen in Henchi had a size of 200 ft by 169 ft, 13 ft deep. It was chosen not only for its size but for its distance from possible saline contamination. Though the villagers had formerly struggled to easily acquire large amounts of water (due to distance to clean water source), the pond has the capacity of containing 683,525,000 litres of water on average in one season. The PSF itself can deliver 10,000 litres of filtered, clean water every day.

The community has been very pleased with the results of the project thanks to the local government, CBO, Shushilan, and ThankYou Group, Australian donor organisation that funds life-changing and sustainable water, hygiene and food projects in developing nations. This project is also supported by the Australian Government, DFAT. “In this regard, such an effective innovation can be replicable under community patronage to build a resilient community at water insecure areas”Suman Das, Project Coordinator Resilient WASH.

The community of Henchi, who were once vulnerable for want of clean drinking water, have been dramatically impacted. A total of 550 families and 4 different villages have benefited directly as a result of the WASH initiative. The PSF was a game changer: the people gained easier access to drinking and cooking water, increased food and nutrition security, and decreased health hazards, saving time and labour for the women who had to collect the water. Of this, approximately 2,750 people have profited from the recent work in the Satkhira district, and the community was ecstatic with the results.

In the near future two more PSFs will be installed in Atulia Union of Shyamnagar Upazila, Satkhira and Amtali Upazila of Barguna district.

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