© Helvetas / KM Asad

Strive to achieve “peace” by providing access to safe drinking water

BY: Omar Faroque - 07. April 2024
© Helvetas / KM Asad

"High tides are more frequent now, and saline water enters in our houses and ponds. We had to drink water from a dirty pond because there were no alternatives” recollects Tondra Bachar, a housewife from Uttar Faluka village, Morolganj, Bagerhat “My family used to suffer a lot from stomach-ache and diarrahoea”. Not anymore. “The Panii Jibon project encouraged us to go to the Union Parishad (UP) Chairman and Upazila Parishads to demand access to safe drinking water. They did not want to listen! So, we organized several human chains to put pressure on local authorities, and after a long struggle we finally got a Pond Sand Filtration (PSF) in our village”.

In the Southwestern coastal belt of Bangladesh, climate change is aggravating the salinization of water sources and soil. Thus, large portion of community people struggle to satisfy their basic needs, also because of lack of proper water-related services.  

For 8 years Helvetas Bangladesh has been implementing Panii Jibon (Water is Life) project in Khulna and Bagerhat districts, working closely with communities to enhance access to safe drinking and boost peace.  

As highlighted by this year’s World Water Day theme, “Leveraging Water for Peace”, water can spark conflicts and tensions but also foster harmony and prosperity.  Families across the coastal area of Bangladesh experience every day the struggle of having to live with not enough water and inadequate sanitation: it’s a denial of a basic human right that turns into a form of violence manifesting itself in recurrent health problems, financial inequalities, gender-based discrimination.

The Panii Jibon project has been supporting coastal communities in three ways 1) providing safe drinking water to over 2400 left-behind families, by installing rainwater harvesting, Pond Sand Filtration (PSF), piped water systems, and deep tube wells; 2) supporting local authorities in improving water services delivery; 3) reinforcing the capacity of communities to advocate for the right to safe drink water. Panii Jibon helped establishing and training 130 Health Village Groups and 3 Mothers Parliaments, that are actively influencing local service providers to improve the water and sanitation services at community level.

The project established 14 water enterprises (local business providing operational maintenance services) at community level and supported them with technical assistance and capacity building, to operate and manage the installed water infrastructure and facilities. Panii Jibon project evaluation findings show that, currently 76% of project participants can now access community and household-based water facilities and 96% of project beneficiaries are satisfied with the water infrastructure and services provided by the project. According to another research in the Southwest Coastal belt of Bangladesh only 12% of the population has access to safely managed water services, 64 % does not have access to drinking water (Hossain et al., 2021).

© Helvetas / KM Asad
Community people are collecting water from PSF © Helvetas / KM Asad
© Helvetas / KM Asad
Health village group members (community people) are conducting quarterly meeting and discussing water related issues among themselves © Helvetas / KM Asad

With these interventions and positive improvements in accessing safe drinking water, Panii Jibon project has contributed to achieve peace in the lives of communities by reducing financial burdens, gender-based violence, and health risks and consequently improving education, employment, and livelihood status of project beneficiaries.

Reducing financial burden for accessing safe drinking water

Amid the financial crisis, it is hard for community people to pay for water and water infrastructures. Panii Jibon supported vulnerable people by providing different water facilities and services. Particularly, Pond Sand Filtration (PSF) proved to be very effective. Families can get drinking water from PSF for free or by paying 10 BDT per month to contribute to operation and management cost. “Before the construction of the PSF, we had to pay 20 BDT every day to purchase water. Sometimes, we had no choice but to travel long distance to fetch drinking water or to drink contaminated water from the pond,” explained people from Nepal Morol Bari, Paikgasa.

The project installed rainwater tanks to families who can’t afford to buy one and are too far away from a PSF: “To get a tank we should have spent 3000 BDT, which we do not have. Panii Jibon provided one for free at 80% of the families in our community” remark people from Shrekanthpoor, Paikgasa, Khulna.

Reducing gender-based violence risks

Women and girls are not only the main responsible for providing water for the family having often to endure long walks, but they also face harassment, particularly during the night: “we often faced eve-teasing by boys and men, or it happened that boys and men harassed us on our way. But now we have a source nearby area". By installing water facilities close to villages, the project contributed to alleviating workload for women and girls, and making them feel safer, so they can concentrate on their livelihood activities and education.

Reducing health risks

Health and wellbeing are the source of peace. Project evaluation findings show that 71.18% of respondents declared that water-borne diseases have decreased in the community after project interventions. Besides installing water facilities and infrastructures, the project established 14 WASH desks at Union Parishad premises to provide information related to safe drinking water source, water quality, water purification method and water-borne diseases. These desks are run by community groups and project staff jointly: “Now people are more aware about the importance of handwashing and drinking safe water”, declared a health village group member from Nishanbaria Union, Morolgonj, Bagerhat. “We are working to help people seek the support they need from the Community Health Clinic, and local authorities,” adds a member from another Health Village Group.

Improved access to education

Lack of access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation has serious consequences in particularly for the health and development of children and adolescents.  As users of the PSF in Nepal Morol Bari, Paikgasa highlight “School-aged children would skip school due to illness. Diarrhoea was frequent before, and we had to buy medications and go to the clinic, spending more than 2000 BDT every month. After the installation of the PSF, there are fewer cases of diarrhoea in the community, and no children are skipping school anymore.”

Moreover, Panii jibon has brought positive changes in the lives of adolescent girls by providing access to sanitation at school. As an adolescent girl from Kapilmuni Sahachari Vidyamandir School and College explains: "We had to skip classed during the menstruation cycle because at school there were no proper facilities. The situation was even worse during the rainy season. We had to wear wet dresses and wet pads until school finished." She further added “Now, those problems are solved as Panii Jibon project has constructed a gender segregated sanitation block in our school."

By ensuring the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, the project supported the right to education, which is paramount to ensure a better, prosperous, and peaceful future to children, their families and the whole community.