INJUDICIOUS spending that has become typical of public services sector comes with concern. The Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, which has spent more than Tk 7,205.49 crore on large-scale projects to construct water treatment plant, install deep tube wells and lay out distribution lines has failed to ensure services that the projects were expected to offer. There are 11 other ongoing projects involving Tk 25,640.91 crore that are far behind schedule. The investment of a huge amount of public money has brought little relief to public life. No one in the city can directly drink supply water. In 2019, a Transparency International, Bangladesh report showed that on an average, a second layer of purification of supply water at the individual level costs natural gas worth Tk 332 crore every month. Yet, the supply water authorities have, meanwhile, routinely increased water prices. In February, the authorities proposed an increase in water tariff by 80 per cent for residential and commercial use when 45 per cent of the city people do not receive the required amount of water. Irregularities that are pervasive in WASA investment, as experts say, have brought the situation to such a pass.
The projects that the supply water authorities have recently completed have failed to produce the expected results because of flaws in planning and corruption in implementation. WASA engineers say that the Tk 3670.49 crore Padma plant and Tk 535 crore Savar well-field project have failed to resolve water scarcity in target areas because distribution lines were not laid out simultaneously. The Savar project fails to work to capacity and local people have held protests at the adverse impact of the project on life and nature. Similar planning flaws are observed in the Dasherkandi Sewerage Treatment Plant, as service lines are not laid out to connect the catchment area. Another flaw in the plan is the excessive reliance on groundwater that has long-term consequences on water bodies and ecology. It is reported that the city’s groundwater depletes by two to three metres a year because of over-extraction. The agency is also reported to have manipulated its performance showing that 66 per cent of its total capacity comes from groundwater when the figure, in fact, is 77 per cent. Flaws in planning coupled with intentional delay, as Anti-Corruption Commission investigations suggest, result in an increased production cost, leading to increased water tariffs.
Supply water consumers have paid the price for inefficiency, corruption and mismanagement in the system for decades. This suggests that an equitable access to safe water is not merely an issue of infrastructure development. It rather requires a politically committed and ecologically sensitive planning. Unless the government addresses the systemic corruption and deals with bureaucratic delay for monetary gains and flaws in planning, access to safe water will continue to remain elusive.
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