PUBLIC health experts on Wednesday rightly said that Bangladesh improved ending open defecation but the faecal sludge management still remained a big challenge. They came up with the observation at a discussion marking National Sanitation Month 2018 that the Department of Public Health Engineering held in Dhaka. A UNICEF water quality and water supply specialist, quoting Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, said that only 20 per cent of the people of Dhaka city were under sewerage coverage and that caused environment pollution and increased hazards for public health. The sewerage system, developed by the city’s supply water and sewerage authorities, decades ago, has hardly seen any upgrade since 1985. It was last upgraded when the city’s population was less than 50 lakh while the current city population, according to a 2017 estimate, is 1.9 crore. The system in place now covers only 25 per cent of the city area leaving outside the coverage even some posh areas at Baridhara, Uttara and Gulshan. As environmentalists said, a major portion of around 4.0 lakh cubic metres of excreta produced across the city everyday is now released into the rivers, canals and lakes in and around the city as house owners lacking the coverage have connected their sewerage lines with storm sewer network. Meanwhile, city residents complain that the supply water is off and on laced with sewer.
A situation like this is also blamed on the absence of proper coordination among agencies related to the maintenance of the supply water network and the sewer system. The government began a discussion in 2003 about how to entrust the city’s drainage management with a single agency. Around a decade later, the committee set up by the government in this regard recommended that the two city corporations should be assigned the duty. Regrettably, however, the recommendation still gathers dust in the local government ministry. Unfortunately, the DWASA master plan taken in 2012 to bring the whole city under a sewerage network has seen no progress. All this takes place at a time when the government claims to achieve the goal laid down in its election manifesto in terms of ensuring sanitation for all within a short period. Quoting from the joint monitoring programme report of 2017, a DPHE official said that only 31 per cent people in rural area were under safely managed sanitation coverage and only 69 per cent people of the country were under improved sanitation coverage, including shared toilet use.
The reasons for which Dhaka has ranked among the worst liveable cities for the past few consecutive years, include the city’s poor sanitation facilities. The government needs to realise that its further failure to address the issue will deepen the crisis.
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