Water Champions initiate or implement water reforms in their chosen field, and are directlyinvolved in improving the water situation in their respective countries.
Water ChampionKhondaker Azharul Haq: Overcoming the Water Supply and SanitationConstraints of Bangladesh
Knowledge Management Officer
ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Dr. Khondaker Azharul Haq is currently the Vice-Chairman of the Citizens Forum on Water and Sanitation Initiatives inBangladesh.For seven years, from '96 - '03, he served as chief executive officer for the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority(DWASA). DWASA is responsible for water supply and disposal of wastewater (both domestic sewerage and storm water)for Bangladesh's fast growing capital.While with DWASA, Dr. Haq enabled the urban poor living in slum areas to gain access to water supply and sanitation(WSS) services. This was a significant accomplishment given that existing Government rules prohibited water connection to persons whodo not hold the title of the holdings they were occupying. After introducing amendments to these rules, DWASA signed a contract withactive NGOs, spearheaded by the Dustha Shasthya Kendra (DSK). In the contract, DWASA will provide the WSS services but the NGOs willorganize the slum communities and ensure that they are able to pay their water bills on time.Dr. Haq's innovation and service orientation are the results of over three decades of experience in implementing projects on water supply,sanitation, drainage, irrigation and water management, agricultural and rural development, and development administration.
What are Bangladesh's principal water supply andsanitation (WSS) challenges?
The biggest problem in water supply is arseniccontamination of the ground water, especially in the ruralareas. About 70 out of 130 million population of the countryare vulnerable to this threat. In sanitation, high capital costis the principal constraint.
What has Bangladesh done to improve the situation?
The Government has beenworking hard to improve theWSS situation. In a bolddecision, it declared that theentire country would beprovided with WSS facilities bythe year 2010. Even the MDGcalls for halving the populationnow unserved by the year2015!I think this target is over ambitious. In the capital cityalone, the number of unserved is increasing and the onesserved are getting neither their required quantity nor qualityof water. Over the last 3 years, the shortfall between waterdemand and supply in Dhaka increased from 200 millionl/day to over 600 million l/day-and this gap is increasing bythe day. Despite the good intentions, I think we can expectmarginal improvements on the ground. In the same vein,sanitation coverage is low and unless massive investmentsare made, there is very little chance of any significantimprovement. But all is not lost. Bangladesh has adopted someinnovations, with results ranging from marginal tosignificant. For instance, the NGOs were involved in thearsenic mitigation program, which was a good strategy.Unfortunately, evaluation reveals that their impact wassketchy, to say the least. On the other hand, Bangladeshtried involving trade unions in revenue billing and collectionand this proved to be very successful, to the extent thattheir involvement was expanded.
What new strategies can Bangladesh adopt improvethe country's WSS services?
I think it is essential to involve the private sector. In theservice sector, private initiative is universally recognized asengine of growth. But except for some erratic involvement inisolated areas, the private sector has been largely kept outof the WSS sector. We must develop a genuine and effectivepublic- private partnership suitable for Bangladesh's socio-economic conditions. Simultaneously, we must strengthenand expand the involvement of NGOs, especially to serveboth the urban and the rural poor.We also need to reform the institutional set up. Theprincipal approach should be decentralization and powerdelegation. The zonal offices that are in direct contact withthe customers should be given adequate administrative andfinancial powers to effectively and promptly provide servicesto their customers. Delegation of authority and power shouldbe done with proper accountability.