Rangpur’s youth working to make a difference in WASH interventions impacted by climate change
Bangladesh has been struggling with ensuring access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for its people. The country has made significant progress towards providing everyone with water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) service over the last two decades.
Around 47% of the population now has access to safely managed drinking water (MICS, 2019). Only 45.3% of households have access to sanitary toilets with a water seal (BBS, 2019) and 35% of the population has basic handwashing facilities at home (Unicef, WHO 2018).
While ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all has been a challenge, poor health and hygiene has been experienced across many communities in the country, especially in several areas of Rangpur and its nearby region. Scarcity of clean water results in several waterborne diseases and public health issues. Climate change, the fickleness of weather patterns, extreme weather events, and several natural disasters has intensified this threat beyond a shadow of a doubt.
In the monsoon period (June to mid-October) almost every year floods occur. The level of floodwater submerges the sewage system and breaks it down which result in water contamination and this contaminated water consumption turns into an acute health risk for community people. Unavailability of water during drought season compelled people to intake less safe water that not only has an adverse impact on their health but also enhances the probability of other health risks.
With few arrangements to fight against this sensitive issue, the people living in Rangpur are suffering from safe water scarcity. In order to ensure a climate-resilient water and sanitation system, the health of community people and youth activists of the Rangpur has been stepping up and is playing a key role in recent times. We are working on this WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) issue in our community from where our efforts bring changes.
Drought is a common climatic hazard here in Rangpur and usually occurs here two times: March-May and October-November. People face water shortages when drought occurs. Drought usually reduces crop production, creating water shortages. Besides drought, groundwater depletion seems another climate-driven issue, especially in city corporation areas. Both drought and groundwater depletion causes clean water scarcity.
From the Climate Resilience Collective, a Bay of Bengal Pilot being implemented by Youth Climate Lab based in Canada and ICCCAD we have been able to understand the scenario of water accessibility of people, poor sanitation and sewage system. Via door to door surveys, focus group discussions with people, key informant interviews we have been able to understand how people are suffering from the clean water and sanitation crisis.
All the activities were conducted in the month of February-March of this year to make people aware of their rights of having clean water, a proper sanitation system and maintaining hygiene; what can be a probable solution to cope up with all the issues and introduce them with facts that can bring change positively. Affordable and sustainable access to clean water, well-constructed sanitation system is a human right. Knowledge and ideas which have been shared with all community people especially those illiterate and poor people can bring a difference.
In the Rangpur city corporation area, most of the people here are not privileged to have a good sanitation system and water supply. As part of making people more aware about water, sanitation health, several activities were conducted. As a youth advocacy group, our discussion focused on safe drinking water, waterborne disease, water security and the importance of water.
We have visited approximately 200 houses (Ashrotpur, Chak Bazar area which is under City Corporation ward no- 28) to understand their situation and to advocate for them about WASH. This ward is situated very close to Shyma Sundori Khal where water is already polluted. Each year, floodwater and polluted water of this Khal raise a safe water crisis.
We suggested to them how they can solve their water issues, how they should maintain hygiene, what can be done from their perspective and how to cope up with that problem. What we understood from our conversation is that most of the people in these households lack access to water; some of them used water from their neighbourhood.
Additionally, it was interesting to learn that many people were not much concerned about water security. While the case of water seemed bleak, many of these households had a sanitary toilet. With several NGOs and city corporations providing them financial help to construct sanitary toilets and active advocacy of water, hygiene has made them aware of improving their sanitation.
Though many of the houses have some level of sanitary toilet improvements, the WASH problem is comparatively higher in slum areas near Shyma Sundori khal where existing water is highly polluted. In the rainy season each year, people’s difficulties with WASH increases. On talking to school-going teenage girls it was an informative discussion because they were willing to listen and learn from us. On the other hand, older people in their family shared their bitter experiences of not having clean water, poor sanitary systems and lack of health support.
Another project we have engaged in was a collaboration project of WaterAid and JAAGO Foundation. The name of the project is “YES Clean water”. Arsenic, PH value of water and TDS (Total Dissolved Solid) had been tested under the initiative. 40 young volunteers across Rangpur worked on the project.
Under this project, we surveyed 1200 houses in the 4 wards at city corporation area. During the survey, we had to go to different houses and talk to them about water quality, we found that they are quite aware of the arsenic problem. When arsenic was found in several homes, they said they stored drinking water elsewhere. On the other hand, in some areas, we observed excess iron.
Talking to the people there, we got to understand that they perceive that there is no health risk for their water. To them, it has now become a habit. In total, we got good drinking water quality in 900 homes. Most of the remaining 300 homes had iron problems. Due to the presence of iron in the water, we did not get the correct PH value in many homes. Iron problems are also a big health risk.
Dr Abdullah Kafi, a specialist at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said, "Drinking more than the tolerable amount of iron-rich water can lead to bone infections and severe damage to various organs of the human body, including liver cirrhosis." Iron accumulates in different parts of the body and causes wounds. The damage to the human body is gradual, so it is not immediately apparent. ' The young people who volunteered for this project got aware about the water problem; We have learned basic water security. Water resources, water services, water-related risks all depend on how well water is managed.
Currently, with the Climate Resilience Collective project, we are initiating individual local projects to take our learnings from our past experience to understand the scenario of water accessibility of people, poor sanitation and sewage system.
Most the activities we have conducted under our local projects have been focused to make people aware of their rights of having clean water, a proper sanitation system and maintaining hygiene; what can be a probable solution to cope up with all the issues and introduce themselves with facts that can bring change positively.
Affordable and sustainable access to clean water and well-constructed sanitation system is a human right. With the aim to make a difference in the communities living in the Rangpur City Corporation, we take it us our responsibility as active youth members of the society to make an effort to bring change.
Most Mastura Munia Farjana is a student at the Institution of Begum Roekya University, Rangpur. Department: Disaster Management, additionally working with YCL CRC Program as a Youth Associate
Sumaiya Afroj is a student at Begum Roekya University, Rangpur. Department: Disaster Management, additionally working with YCL CRC Program as a Youth Associate
Md Abu Hasnat is working with YCL CRC Program as a Youth Associate. E-mail: [email protected]