No room to neglect access to safe drinking water
Despite much awareness-building and numerous donor-funded projects to improve people’s access to safe drinking water over the years, it is rather depressing to note that about 20 million people still do not have access to safe water in Bangladesh. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Sunday, many areas, especially hard-to-reach areas such as hilly regions, chars, swampy areas like bils and haors, water-scarce areas like coastal belts, Barind area and rapidly growing urban slum areas, suffer from water scarcity. While the government claims 88 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation puts the number at 81 per cent, and what adds greater confusion to what exactly is the number of people without access to safe water in Bangladesh is that there is a serious dispute over what the exact population of the country is. It is pertinent to note that ‘tackling the arsenic problem’ and ensuring ‘supply of pure drinking water for all by 2011’ were part of the ruling party’s electoral pledge, though, by their own admission, the government has so far only managed to increase access to safe water for only four million people in its three years in office. As experts point out, many of the government’s programmes to increase access to safe drinking water are now not working because of poor maintenance, lack of coordination between stakeholders, poor planning and non-scientific approach, lack of accountability of NGOs at the field level and the donor’s approach to privatise the water sector.
The government must realise that access to safe drinking water is a fundamental right of every citizen in the world, in the twenty-first century, and there is absolutely no scope to neglect the process of providing access to safe water to all in the shortest possible time. Access to safe water will ensure a drastic fall in the number of deaths and illnesses caused by water-borne diseases and will enhance the general level of productivity of the population at large. It must also be remembered that ensuring access to safe drinking water for all is an important part of the Millennium Development Goals.
Another important aspect the report sheds light upon is the worrying rise of the presence of harmful chemicals in water, such as manganese, boron and fluoride, besides arsenic. Although Bangladesh’s limit for manganese is 0.1 parts per thousand, the level of the chemical exceeds 0.7ppt in many western areas such as Jessore and Rajshahi. This is very worrying news indeed. It is pertinent to remember that the government used to claim almost full coverage of access to safe drinking water before the arsenic epidemic hit and access drastically fell from 98 per cent 73 per cent overnight. Experts point out, if the new chemicals remain ignored, they can turn into a similar major disaster in the near future. The government must, therefore, immediately ensure access to safe drinking water for all.
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