Young women pioneer clean water change in Bangladesh


22 March 2019 13:35
young women in Bangladesh give clean water training
Young women in Bangladesh give clean water training in their settlements

Teenage girls from Bangladesh have been taking control of water contamination in their communities – a problem which takes millions of lives globally every year.

Trained in basic clean water science and armed with posters and self-confidence, the girls have been sharing knowledge, tackling unhealthy practices and explaining how easy it is to contaminate water on the final journey from shared water pump to the home.

Drawn from ‘low-income settlements’ the girls are part of an international project involving Lancaster University and eight other academic, NGO and industry collaborators from Bangladesh, India, Tanzania and UK. Known as The Last 100 Metres (L100M), the project aims to keep water safe for human consumption on this final crucial leg of its journey into homes.

The first group of 30 young women have already made an impact in their communities, where people have begun to listen and learn from their instruction.

The project was part of a detailed study of eight settlements – four each in Dhaka and Dar es Salaam - which discovered that, despite huge progress in delivering clean water to some of the world’s poorest areas, the water was still becoming contaminated. This was, in part, due to a lack of education and awareness of how to safely transport store and consume water at home.

The problem was particularly acute in highly-populated bustees (Bengali term for low-income settlements) in Dhaka where drinking water and toilet facilities were both exposed to heavy use and in close proximity to one another. In addition, the urban population is still growing rapidly.

The project team analysed more than 500 samples from five stages of the ‘water pathway’ in four Dhaka settlements and found municipal water was usually at a low level of risk until it entered the final dispensing facilities inside the bustees. Only then - after the water came out of the taps - did it get contaminated to a very high level of risk. They found further contamination occurred between the final dispensing points and people’s homes.

Bangladeshi-born Dr Manoj Roy of the Lancaster Environment Centre has led the project. He said it became clear that people were still becoming sick and dying due to faecal contamination in their water and that there was scope to make a massive difference to people’s lives. The trick was finding a system that would work.

He said: “In Bangladeshi culture young girls can hold high status in the family and community due to the fact they are often seen as the embodiment of the grandmother. Our girl volunteers have been quite outstanding. Some may have been shy and afraid to speak publicly at first but after some training and encouragement, they have all become very powerful agents for change.”

Professor AR Mollah of Dhaka University said: “The girls are all part of low-income families living in the heart of their communities. What they are aspiring to do – lead social change from within - is brilliant. Our nation needs all young girls doing this.”

Marina, one of the volunteers from a settlement in Beguntila said: “Before I couldn’t talk with people fluently but now I can speak with anyone without any hesitation and also can influence them. I am the leader of my group. People listen my words. I have no fear now.”

Lucky Akter, also from Beguntila said: “When I have children I will teach them the necessity of washing hands before eating and after the toilet. This will remain with me throughout my life. As long as I am alive my aim is to inform people about safe drinking water and healthy sanitation.”

The next step is to recruit another group of teenagers and begin to roll the project out even further. The teenage girls trained in the L100M project are now recruiting more teenage girls like them from other bustees across Dhaka to add to and pass on the life-lessons they have gained. 

Where the young women can demonstrate improvements in their water purity, the project hopes to be able to offer them further support in future training and education opportunities.

Mr Abdul Hakim of DSK (Dushtha Shasthya Kendra), one of L100M’s local NGO collaborators is helping the girls to organise. He said: “We are forming community-based committees first, then we can go to the City Corporation level and even to the National level”.

Mr Sanjoy Mukherjee of WaterAid Bangladesh is spearheading the conversion of L100M project’s scientific findings into a hygiene/behavioural change message for the young girls to take to their communities.

He said: “These girls are our future leaders. We need them to bring changes to hygiene practices in low-income communities if we are to achieve UN sustainable development target of equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030.”     

Mr Tapos Das of BRAC University is L100M project’s field researcher. He said: “As a researcher there is nothing more satisfying than to find such amazing propagators of hard-earned research findings like these young girls from the bustees.” 


Background

The project leads on from EcoPoor and the Last 100 Metres [See the film here: https://youtu.be/HflC4_yiVBc] focussing in clean water in Bangladesh and Tanzania. Both projects are implemented by collaborators from Bangladesh, India, Tanzania and the UK.

The team includes: three UK institutions (Lancaster UniversityThe University of Manchester and British Water); four Bangladeshi organisations (BRAC UniversityUniversity of DhakaDushtha Shasthya Kendra [DSK] and WaterAid Bangladesh); one Indian organisation (Centre for Science and Environment [CSE]); and two Tanzanian organisations (Ardhi University and BRAC Tanzania). 

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