Background 2012

According to the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP)[1], water supply coverage increased from 78% in 1990 to 98% in 2006 in Bangladesh. However, Arsenic contamination in the groundwater has lowered this coverage to 78%. The latest (2009) Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) revealed that access to improved source of drinking water adjusted for arsenic contamination has increased to 86% which means in other word that about 20 million people of the country is still at risk of drinking water containing arsenic above the acceptable level (50 μg/L).
The source of safe drinking water is limited in the coastal areas of Bangladesh, particularly in the South-Western part of the country. In many places in the coastal belt, the level of salinity and arsenic contamination in the shallow aquifer is intolerably high for human consumption. This has huge impact on the overall well-being of the people of these areas. In many places, people travel as long as 7-10 km per day to fetch water for household consumption and other usages. This on the one hand increases the workload of women and girls as water fetching is traditionally the responsibility of women. On the other hand, it impact women’s physical safety, school attendance and education of girls, personal health care, economic regeneration and so on. Moreover, loss of livelihood opportunities, agricultural productivity, internal displacement and migration are other issues which are interwoven with the lack of access to safe water.
The South-East part of the country, mainly the Chittagong Hilly region is evidently different from the other parts of the country geologically, ecologically and culturally. A significant portion of the poor indigenous communities living in the remote hilly areas do not have adequate access to safe water supply. While countrywide access to safe water is 86%, only 60% of people in the hilly areas have access to safe water which drastically reduces to only 4% in the dry season[2]. Due to hilly topography and difficult hydro-geological conditions, construction of water supply facilities is difficult and expensive. Sub-surface aquifer is often not accessible due to stony layer. Average consumption of water is extremely low due to long distances of water facilities and uphill journey. Women and girls, on an average, spend 2 hours/per day[3] to collect water from about 3 km distance experiencing extreme hardships of climbing hills and passing through forests.

Besides, unplanned urbanization along with industrialization, rapid population growth, lack of planning and implementation triggered the phenomenon of water scarcity in the cities and town of the country. The cities in Bangladesh particularly the Dhaka City has been facing serious water crisis during the dry season over the past decade. The groundwater table is declining rapidly due to over extraction of groundwater to meet huge water demand of the city. In Dhaka, the groundwater table is depleting at a rate of 2-3 meter every year. Between 1991 and 2008, the groundwater table has dropped by 53.75 meters in Mirpur area alone. Over-extraction and lack of natural recharge have been identified the key to such phenomenal decline of groundwater table. The consequences of such decline could be dangerous in many ways.
The potentiality of rainwater harvesting to address household level water scarcity as well as to enhance groundwater recharging has already been tested in the context of Bangladesh and in many other countries in the Asian and African regions. Particularly in the coastal areas of Bangladesh, indigenous knowledge and practice of catching, storing and using rainwater as an alternate source of drinking water have been evident for long. The Government of Bangladesh and its development partners have also been promoting rainwater as an alternative source of potable water in response to arsenic problem.
Bangladesh receives annual average rainfall of 2150 mm which is almost three times more than the world average of 800 mm. But the potentiality of this huge rainfall remains mostly un-utilized since using rainwater for drinking and other household usages is still not socially and technologically very familiar in Bangladesh. In the CHT and in urban areas it is only a recent phenomenon although it is now widely agreed that use of rainwater will reduce the pressure on groundwater supply to a great extent which may also contribute to reduce the problem of water logging in the urban areas. It is anticipated that if utilized properly, rainwater has the potentiality of meeting many of the challenges being faced by the urban areas in relation to increase access to safe water and some other urban environmental problems.
Recently, the Institute of Water Modeling (IWM) in Bangladesh has conducted a pilot study for Dhaka WASA (Water and Sewerage Authority) to assess the possibility and potentiality of groundwater recharging through rainwater harvesting and concluded that if done properly, it could arrest further decline and to a great extent increase the water table in Dhaka. With support from Unicef, the University of Dhaka has done a pilot study in saline intruded coastal belt about the possibility of using rainwater as an alternative source of potable water and observed huge potentiality.
Mainly to popularize rainwater harvesting and to create a pool human resources on the subject, WaterAid in Bangladesh in collaboration with the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), India has taken a systematic approach and so far conducted 3 batches of training on Urban Rainwater Harvesting. This program was participated by academia, professionals like Architects, Civil Engineers, Environmental Consultants, Lawyers, Urban Planners, Government and NGO Officials from different institutions of Bangladesh. However, this is not enough to popularize rainwater in policy and practice levels.
[1] JMP monitors fulfilment of the MDG for water supply and sanitation and is managed jointly by WHO and UNICEF.
[2] Revised Sector Development Plan (draft 2009), PSU, MOLGRD
[3] “Assessment of Socio-economic Improvements in the Lives of Targeted People with a Special Focus on the Extreme Poor, Women & Girls”, June, 2007, Human Development Research Centre (HDRC)