WASA decentralisation alone won’t bring accountability

Published: 00:00, May 18,2019


THE supply water agency’s failure to provide safe water, especially in Dhaka, has become a major cause of public suffering. In October 2018, a World Bank report showed that 7.5 crore people drink unsafe water as 41 per cent of water sources contain harmful bacteria and 13 per cent contain arsenic. A recent Transparency International Bangladesh report on the performance of the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority says that nearly 45 per cent of service-seekers do not get the desired amount of water and about 35 per cent of service-seekers complain of poor quality of water round the year. The poor quality supply water left 91 per cent of the clients with no choice but to boil water which costs gas worth Tk 332 crore a year. Rejecting the report, the DWASA managing director claimed that supply water is safe and is directly drinkable. Aggrieved citizens irked at his remark held protests and demanded that he should apologise. Meanwhile, the local government, rural development and cooperatives ministry submitted a report to the High Court that shows that the supply water is polluted in 59 areas of its 10 zones, proving the claim of the director to be false.
After citizen’s movement for safe water in Dhaka, a parliamentary committee summoned the DWASA managing director, but none from the supply water agency appeared at the meeting. The absence from the meeting indicates a lack of any form of accountability on part of the agency, but it also reflects on the declining moral authority of the parliament, which is largely unrepresentative. The parliamentary committee, however, expressed concern about the slow progress in various development projects of supply water agencies and recommended splitting DWASA keeping to the administrative division of Dhaka south and north city corporations. The decentralisation of administration is an important move, but decentralisation itself will not resolve the problem unless widespread corruption is taken into serious account. It is said that water is not contaminated at source but becomes polluted through pipelines, which are not maintained. Irregularities in recruitment process and lack of proper monitoring have produced an unwilling and corrupt work force that fails to ensure safe water.
Safe water crisis unless immediately addressed could become a major public health concern. Residents of the city have already reported difficulty in maintaining health and hygiene because of the lack of adequate supply water for domestic use. The number of diarrhoea patients admitted to the ICDDR,B hospital has already crossed the number admitted in any previous summer in 12 years. In summer 2018, the Chattogram Water Supply and Sewerage Authority was blamed for an unchecked outbreak of Hepatitis E. The government must take immediate steps to identify the reasons for the failure and initiate an investigation of the allegation of corruption in the sector. Failure to provide water is a failure to ensure citizen’s constitutional right to basic needs.

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