Water crisis multiplies plights of coastal people

Manzur H Maswood, back from Khulna | Published: 23:26, Mar 31,2020


After her marriage in 2000, Minoti Sarkar moved to Chalna, Dacope, to live with her husband, a goldsmith by profession.

The couple has now two school-going daughters.

Minoti has a happy family life but her anguish outweighs her happiness and it revolves around the lifestyle the coastal region of Dacope forced upon her.

She decided not to marry her daughters off to anyone living in Dacope region as she does not want her daughters do go through the pain she has suffered over the years.

‘I have a happy family life with my husband and children, but I am unhappy being settled in this locality where drinking water is scarce,’ Minoti shares.

‘I have struggled all through the past two decades for accessing drinking water,’ she says. 

The story of Minoti echoes everyone else’s story of suffering for ‘sweet water’, a local name for drinking water, in Dacope, a locality of about 1.5 lakh people, bordering the Sunderbans.

‘I spend more than an hour in collecting drinking water for my family every day,’ said Minoti.

‘Women suffer in such water crisis most as we are responsible for collecting water for the families,’ Minoti said and added, ‘I do not want my daughters to go through similar torture while trying to collect drinking water.’

Sweet water is at least two kilometres away from Minoti’s home and she travels to the source on foot every morning.

Geographical location is a deciding factor for the water crisis in the Dacope region.

Four live rivers — Pasur, Sibsa, Manki, Bhadra — ensure water flow through the Dacope and wetlands and shrimp farms are everywhere, but all the water are brackish.

The underground water extracted through deep tube-wells does not produce sweet water as the aquifer is regularly recharged with the brackish water.

The only sources of sweet drinking water is rainwater harvesting or two costly options — filtering brackish water using technologies like Reverse Osmosis of underground water or sand filtering of pond water.

‘People in this region suffer a lot for accessing drinking water,’ said Swapan Guha, executive director of Rupantar, a local nongovernment organisation working for improving water and sanitation.

‘Geographical location aside, an increased number of natural disasters in the recent years further deepened the crisis,’ he told New Age.

‘Many people who have options are now are desperate to leave the region,’ he added.

In recent years, a number of cyclones — Aila, Sidr and Bulbul — brought about disastrous consequences, Swapan said, leading to a surge of brackish water flooding the low-laying areas when a cyclone comes.

According to Rupantar, which works with the support of Water Aid, only 40 per cent people in the locality has access to sweet drinking water.

Others drink unsafe water collected from ponds or salt water extracted from tube-wells.

Rainwater harvesting, RO plants and pond water filtering are the only options, said Swapan, adding that plastic water tanks were used for harvesting rainwater but the rainy season spans for about three to four months only.

Well-off families install water tanks to preserve rainwater which ensures their water supply almost round the year, said Jayanta Mallick, assistant engineer of Department of Public Health Engineering in Khulna.

The government and nongovernment organisations like Rupantar help support the families to install the water tanks, he said.

In Dacope, about 3,000 families are supported with the water tank installation by the government and the NGOs, Jayanta said, but the water tank installation is not viable as a water tank can only ensure water security for a single family.

PSF, or pond water sand filtering is a better option, he argued, as such plants can ensure water supply to the entire community.

Now, 50 PSF plants are in operation in Dacope, but those are not at all adequate, Jayanta said.

With the support from Water Aid, Rupantar installed eight RO plants in Dacope and each of them produce around 1,000 litter water per hour.

About 15,000 people are benefitted by eight RO plants, but those are inadequate for women like Minoti to feel secure about her daughters’ future.

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