For those living in Bangladesh’s urban areas, it might be difficult to imagine being completely cut off from drinking water. Yet, there are millions in this very country that are suffering due to shortage of drinking water.

In the remote coastal villages of Khulna, families struggle to source proper nutrition as the water salinity continues to increase due to natural disasters. This is a direct effect of climate change, one that should serve as a warning for the world. For the hardworking, sincere people of Deluti union in Khulna’s Paikgachha Upazila, water salinity has brought major misfortune. Freshwater sources are far and few, and buying bottled water is simply impossible with a small income they make from agriculture and labour jobs.

The scarcity of drinking water can be severely detrimental to people’s health, and meeting the need for fresh water with saline water would cause further problems. The people of Deluti have shown extreme resilience in the face of natural disasters, yet the effects of cyclones Sidr and Aila have lingered, slowly rendering the area’s water and soil unusable.

Rainwater harvesting has been used to mitigate these problems in developing regions in the past. It is an economical solution, as the more rainwater is collected, the more time, energy, and money are saved. It remains a superior method to desalination, and particularly benefits women, as they are usually responsible for sourcing nutrition for their families.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had a clear objective for the intervention at Deluti -- to secure at least two litres of non-saline water per person per day. Rainwater harvesting systems (RWHS) were implemented at three levels -- household, community, and institution -- to reach this objective.

 

The RWHS consists of a simple filtration and disinfection system to avoid contamination and requires basic maintenance. However, setting it up in an area where most houses are built with a lower roof than the required height of 9.5 feet was challenging. Coastal people build low houses to to better handle the frequent natural disasters. It was also difficult to ensure the quality of filtration materials.

To adapt and overcome, the UNDP team came up with a way to do pre-tank filtering to reduce the height of the RWHS and match the average 6-6.5 feet high rooves in the villages. Multiple other engineering improvisations were made to ensure smooth operation of the systems.

This pilot project was able to secure two litres of water per day for its beneficiaries through RWHS. Nolita Mandal, a resident of the union, expressed her happiness at having an easily accessible and manageable source of water, “We were drinking water from ponds during rainy season when it is less saline, while shallow tube wells provided saline water during summer. Out cattle were suffering from malnutrition due to lack of fodders. The saline water and soil of the area does not allow us to provide the right nutrition for the animals, and in turn they cannot provide for us.”

“Thanks to this innovation, I have been able to better provide for my family and the livestock we keep. This has been nothing short of a blessing for me and my community,” she said.

The RWHS was installed at 20 per cent of the households in each ward of the union, which were selected based on need. For many households, it is particularly difficult to reach community or institution-level RWHS and other water sources, and there are family members with disabilities in some households as well.

This pilot project was financed by Green Climate Fund, and its findings have been a tremendous learning opportunity for those working for sustainable development in the coastal areas. Millions can be benefited through RWHS if it is installed in a larger scale across the areas where people are struggling to source water.

Water scarcity could displace 700 million people by 2030, and people in the coastal areas of Bangladesh are already having to migrate amid the harsh conditions they face every day. UNDP is working to realise SDG 6-clean water and sanitation, so that the millions of Bangladeshis who are at risk of displacement can adapt and overcome the effects of climate change. The pioneering development agency of the UN has made water more accessible for many communities in the difficult terrain of CHT, and it is imperative that the coastal people do not get left behind as well.

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