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The views expressed in this paper are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this paper do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's terminology.
Bilqis A. Hoque, Sufia Khanam, M Kamalur R. Talukder, K. Fakhrul Abedin and Masud Karim
An invited presentation in the Session on “ The Last Drop: Women’s Leadership for Sustainable Water Supply”. Asia & Pacific Workshop “ From the Shallow to the Deep-who takes the lead? WOMEN, WATER and LEADERSHIP”. Organized by ADB, IWMI, CGIAR and research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystem. Introduction Roles of women in household management of drinking water has been has been recognized over decades. Like in most of the developing countries, women in Bangladesh are traditionally 13-14 February 2014. ADB Headquarters, Manila, Philippines’.
responsible for collecting, transporting, storing and handling water for drinking and almost all domestic purposes. The rural water system in Bangladesh is predominantly point source based. In 2009, about 22 million populations in Bangladesh did not have access to safe drinking water due to arsenic contamination of groundwater. Women of the households of the other populations in arsenic affected areas, who got access to the safe water options after the massive identification of the risks for exposure to drinking arsenic contaminated water in 1998 (estimated at more than 40 population) up until now, collected water from community options which were located at a significantly longer distance than their earlier used contaminated shallow tube wells. The women in the arsenic affected areas have to decide about and locate safe water options to carry out the traditional roles with that increased physical, social, security, economical and other burdens. Reportedly about half of the safe water options installed in arsenic affected areas were not functioning though more than 70% had assigned trained caretakers for its operation and maintenance. It may be mentioned that the national drinking water and sanitation policies, arsenic mitigation policy, or sector development plan 2011-25 does not specifies participation of women in drinking water management; except incorporation of one-third female members in various committees. .
High risks for exposure to drinking arsenic contaminated ground water have been observed in several countries in Asia and other regions. The purpose of this paper is to share experiences gained by one or more of us during action research about rural sustainable safe drinking water supply in arsenic affected areas and involvement of women from different levels towards leadership. We could not locate any other document on changing women roles towards leadership in Bangladesh. The three action research projects discussed here are as follows: (i) Community based arsenic mitigationin Kalia Upazilla, Narail, under the 15-Upzilla Arsenic mitigation project. 20012005.Funded by UNICEF. (ii) Demonstrating the value of greater women involvement in implementing arsenic mitigation water supply in Bangladesh. 2009-2010. Funded by ADB. And (iii) Sustainable Involvement of Empowered Women in the Southwest Area Integrated Water Resources Planning and Management Project (SAIWRPMP). 2012-ongoing. Funded by ADB. All the three projects are conducted by Environment and Population Research Centre (EPRC) in collaboration with DPHE-UNICEF, DPHE-ADB and BWDB-ADB-The Netherlands Embassy and DPHE respectively. Women involvement towards leadership in safe water supply Project-I The main objective of the project was to provide arsenic mitigation water supply through built community response capacity. It included the following main activities: tube well testing and marking, raising awareness and strengthening local government capacity for arsenic mitigation and installation of safe water options. Out of 12,094 tested drinking water tube wells 8147 (73.3%) were observed contaminated with arsenic above Bangladesh standard. Six, 194, 196, 25, and 110 of PSF, DW, RWH, SST, and DTW technological options and one village pipe water system respectively were installed and handed over to the people in three phases of the Project. The installed water options were chosen by the informed users/beneficiaries. Here arsenic mitigation committees were formed at Ward, Union and Upzilla levels to guide the activities after informed community group chosen sites and water technologies. One Water Committee was formed against every installed water option before its installation. Executive
committee of a Water Committee is comprised of: a chairman, a secretary, a treasurer and 6 general members. Two hundred and thirty-two Water Committees were formed during the projerct. Of the 1911 members in the committees little less than one-third were females. Also about one-third of the caretakers who received training about the O&M were females. Since the national policies for water supply and sanitation suggests incorporation of one-third women in the committees and emphasizes community participation/community based decisions, it was then not possible to bring more women into the committees. One of the main recommendations in the 2005 final report of the project was to allow special attempts to encourage proper women participation. When we visited the areas recently, we could rarely locate the water committees or arsenic mitigation committees. Except the deep tube wells, most of the other technologies were not functioning/not used. The level of environmental health knowledge was very low. Many households had gone back to the use of arsenic contaminated shallow tube-wells for drinking/cooking water purposes. . Project 2 The main purposes of the project was to demonstrate installation of community based arsenic mitigation water supply and study scopes of women involvement in the management of safe drinking water. The project compared knowledge, use and operation-maintenance about safe water systems based on two interventions compared against an existing system (similar to project 1). The first intervention (WEL) included: improving water, sanitation, hygiene (WSH) and other basic household environmental health practices by piloting a local women-led community institution for WSH/household environment and livelihood improvement (Women for Environment and livelihood; (WEL) among the populations. The members of the executive committee of WEL ( with women in key positions) had selected the sites for water options and agreed to take the responsibilities of operation and maintenance (O&M) of the project installed 9 water options, after training on related social, technological, technical and fund raising issues. The second intervention( Education ) included: improving water, sanitation, hygiene (WSH) and other basic household environmental health practices by project creating awareness through mass and community based women education. It included the populations which had more or less access to
the existing safe drinking water options. The Comparison group: populations which had more or less similar socio-cultural characteristics and better access to safe drinking water options than the WEL populations thru safe water supply systems similar to project 1 conditions. They were not provided with any direct intervention by the project In the WEL group, the rate of drinking arsenic contaminated water reduced from 90% in baseline to 0% in both final and remained at 0% in post-project surveys. The O&M conditions of the water options, the bacteriological and arsenic quality of water at both water option site and storage container points and women participation feelings in water management were found significantly better in WEL group than in the Educational or Comparison groups. The members of the WELs expressed high appreciation/satisfaction for ‘honoured ownership’ thru ’empowered women-led institution’ for safe drinking water. . It may be mentioned that the pipe water supply in Narail as well as well Deep tube-wells under WEL of this project are still operating satisfactorily.
Project 3 (Ongoing) The main objective of the drinking water sub-component is to create sustainable access to safe drinking water based on trained local/beneficiary women-led institutions (WEL) and its linkages to Water Management Associations (WMAs) and water Management Cooperative Societies (WMCS) of the SAIWRPMP. The water supply activity is a sub-component of the SAIWRPMP. The immediate objective of SAIWRPMP is to enhance and sustain water security and livelihoods of rural people within the hydrological boundaries defined by existing low-performing flood control and drainage systems. The Project aims to enhance and sustain the livelihoods of rural people within the existing flood embankment systems suffering from low performance, through (i) preparing integrated water management plans (IWMPs) for the selected systems; (ii) delivering improved water management infrastructure and support services for agriculture and fishery development and pilot arsenic mitigation following IWMPs; and (iii) strengthening institutions to operate these functions while delivering intended benefits with self sustaining operation and maintenance (O&M) mechanisms. The project has been implementing gender mainstreamed Water Management Cooperative Society (WMCS) and Water Management
Association (WMA) for water management; in addition to improving the hydraulic structures. .In total, 47 WELs have been formed against 47 installed deep tube wells and trained so far. The members of most of the WELs for respective water options: selected sites; collected community contributions in water option installation; closely monitored, supervised and certified satisfactory installation of the options; collecting and saving about US Dollar 0.1 per user household per month as credit towards any O&M; taking care of the options and systems; promoting educated./trained environmental health messages on water-sanitation-environment among the users and neighbourhoods; and bearing all responsibilities of the institution with ‘honoured ownership”. The WELs have been performing minor maintenance/repairs about drainage connected to the water supply, cleaning or replacement of spare parts with the savings and/or additional contributions from the users. Two WELs have done major repairs on their water options with loans from the WMCSs. Recently we have started formative research on strategic approaches and capacity building needs about linking the WELs to the WMAs through WMCSs. Two WELs are being trained and studied to improve the environmental conditions in two schools within their respective WMCAs catchment areas with the school management committees. Conclusions The data clearly indicated that building leadership capacities of women for safe drinking in arsenic affected areas thru local women-led institutions for environment and livelihood has promising implications for safe water supply. We are yet to observe/develop the women-led model/WEL into a proven approach for sustainable safe drinking water supply thru realities responsive long (duration) enough action research project. However, it may be pointed out that we could not locate any mechanism for sustainable safe water supply in arsenic affected areas in all these years while men have been in leadership of water supply. Acknowledgement The projects were sponsored by UNICEF and Asian Development Bank (ADB) as mentioned above. We are grateful to Mr. S. M. Ihtishamul Huq, Mr Sudhir Kumar Gosh and current
Executive Engineer of Narail from the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), Mr J.
William, Mr Philip, Dr R. Johnston, Mr Shafique and Miss Shirin from UNICEF, Dr G. Howard from DFID, Engr. Zahirul Islam from BWDB and, Mr. Jahiruddin Ahmed, Miss Nutsuko T and Mr. Kenichi Yokoyama from ADB for their contributions to the project/s. We acknowledge all the staffs of EPRC who worked hard to achieve the objectives of the projects. We express our sincere gratitude to the local communities, particularly women and leaders in the study areas who showed patience, trust, enthusiasm and support for the study.
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