Recognition of water-works key to reach the SDGs

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Dhaka, Mar 22: Poor awareness and skills of millions of ‘water workers’ engaged in agriculture, aquaculture, industrial and power generation sectors, the biggest water users of country is one of the main impediments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by establishing efficient water management in Bangladesh.

 The recognition of water-centered livelihood & jobs are downplayed by the policy level which is accelerating poor water resource management putting a negative impact on our socio-economic progress.

 In a Global Message delivered by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the occasion of World Water Day 2016, it has been stated that to achieve the SDGS, water quality, management and protection of water resources must be ensured.

The Message mentions that “people with least access to water and sanitation often also lack access to healthcare and stable jobs.”

The issues were raised at a National Seminar on Recognizing Works in Water in observance of the World Water Day in Bangladesh.

The Seminar was organized on Tuesday, the World Water Day at the DPHE Auditorium in the city’s Kakrail.

Among others, Abdul Malek, Secretary, LGD, MoLGRD&C; Kazi Abdul Noor, Project Director, PSU; Taqsem A. Khan, Managing Director, Dhaka WASA; and Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Bangladesh Representative also spoke at the Seminar.

Md. Wali Ullah, Chief Engineer, DPHE presided over the Event.

The Event was jointly organized by DPHE, DWASA, PSU, UNIC, UNICEF, The World Bank, WSSCC, Bangladesh WaSH Alliance and NGO Forum for Public Health.

Eminent water expert Ainun Nishat, Professor Emeritus, BRAC University chaired the Working Session of the Seminar.

Anwar Zahid, Deputy Director, BWDB brought up water’s role on socio-economic advancement of Bangladesh in his key-note paper People’s Engagement in Water-works: Bangladesh Perspective. Cases upholding scenario of different geophysical settings of Bangladesh were also shared by local media professionals.

The LGD Secretary mentioned that agriculture, industry, fisheries, transportation, social entrepreneurship- every single job is involved with water and finally contributes to development.

The Secretary pointed out that 47% of the total employment is in agriculture sector while at the same time, urbanization is taking place at a rate of 2.5% which is higher than the national population growth rate of 1.4%.

These people are entering into various formal and non-formal economic sectors dependant on water with poor knowledge and skills and are further accelerating misuse of water resources.

He emphasized on the need to recognize those who are involved in water related works both paid and unpaid for leading a better and dignified life. He mentioned that the Local Government Division through DPHE is working to prepare a comprehensive technical guideline on water supply to improve technical capability in developing water sources along with selecting feasible technological options.

This would help in reducing GoB’s annual expenditure for water-borne diseases; as the Secretary mentioned, “Bangladesh allocates around Tk. 5,000 crores for its health sector per year whose 85% is used for water-borne diseases”.

Kazi Abdul Noor pointed out the role of private sector in addressing water management. He stated that considering our limited resources, the private sector clearly has an increasingly important role to play to address the water supply coverage gaps in some areas like the coastal belt where there is no feasible groundwater or surface water source.

The PSU with support from ADB has also progressed in finalizing the Water Supply and Sanitation Regulatory commission bill that is going to make provisions for the establishment of an independent economic regulatory commission for the water supply and sanitation (WSS) sector in Bangladesh.

Taqsem A. Khan emphasized on ensuring water utility by Dhaka WASA. He assured in a statement that by December 2016, all of the slum areas of Dhaka would be under Dhaka WASA’s legal water connection network.

This will ultimately contribute in achieving the SDG no. 5 which targets to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Through brining slum’s Low Income Communities under legal water network has enabled women to reduce their time for water collect to just 10 minutes and thus, engage their time in income-generating activities.

 Regarding improving water utility, Taqsem A Khan exclaimed that Bangladesh now has the lowest system loss (NRW) in water sector among the South-east Asian counties. Compared to 35% system loss in neighbouring countries, this ratio is 22% for Bangladesh now and it has been possible to reduce at a ratio of 4 to 5% each year.

UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Edouard Beigbeder called upon policy-makers to prioritize the most arsenic affected areas for provision of water supply in ongoing government projects. She upheld studies in Bangladesh carrying evidence of the effect of unsafe water on children- “one log unit increase in arsenic in drinking water causes a 17 gram decrease in birth weight”.

 UNICEF believes, for Bangladesh to meet the drinking water related Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target, at least 24 million people must access safe water by 2030.

Professor Dr. Ainun Nishat put his emphasis on political commitment of our political leaders. Mentioning that the Prime Minister now has her highest concentration on preserving bio-diversity and environment amidst taking development actions, he stated,

“It is these kinds of political commitments by our decision-making Ministries that can carry out necessary policy directions and actions for increasing efficiency in water management.”

Dr. Nishat stressed on the issue that due to poor water quality and increasing water crisis, the country’s women are consuming less water and were exposed to various health hazards that is lessening their working capacity.

 In the long run, this is going to hinder the country’s way forward towards achieving the SDGs that requires both men and women to act equally and make a difference in society and nation.

DPHE Chief Engineer Md. Wali Ullah also emphasized to identify sector specific water dependency on works an essential foundation to support sustainable economic development.

In his welcome note, S.M.A. Rashid, Executive Director of NGO Forum for Public Health emphasized on recognizing women’s contribution in unpaid water management at community and household levels. Out of the total freshwater resources in Bangladesh, 10% is being used at domestic level.

 It can be easily assumed that mostly our women are managing that 10% of our freshwater resources. Thus, it is a crucial area to address. Also, Bangladesh experiences a ratio of 8.5% deaths per year out of total number of deaths to be attributed to poor-quality drinking water, poor sanitation, and poor hygiene.

 Poor health and malnutrition as a result of poor sanitation and lack of safe drinking water especially in the hard-to-reach areas is a national problem. Mere progress in economic growth cannot improve malnutrition issue.

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