WASA must supply safe drinking water to city dwellers
Despite the fact that in sweltering summer nothing can be more refreshingly welcome than a glass of lemonade often described as the ultimate summer thirst quencher; but the Dhaka WASA chief refused to have it, which was made with the WASA water which he claimed to be “completely drinkable.” It happened on 23 Apr 2019 when a family from Dhaka city’s south-eastern area called Jurain came to the WASA office to offer lemonade made from water supplied by the of Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA) to its Managing Director Taqsem A Khan. A jug filled with water of the WASA, a few lemons and sugar was kept handy there to prepare lemonade. Filth was conspicuously floating in the water when Mizanur, a social worker, showed the jug and glass filled with water. On April 20, Taqsem A Khan said ,”Water supplied by WASA in the capital is cent percent drinkable.” Perhaps the incident was atypical, and to some extent quaint, but its message is acute and profound.
It will receive approbation of all and sundry after what the residents of Jurain, Shyampur, Madhya Badda, Rampura and Tejgaon in Dhaka have done as a civic protest. The megacity Dhaka’s frustrated and embittered dwellers learnt the hard way how repugnantly hazardous is the water supplied by the WASA. Survey findings have been upsetting for years. In a 2011 study researchers of the Institute of Food Science & Technology, BCSIR, Dhaka and Department of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet, assessed the microbiological quality of Dhaka WASA drinking water. To sum up, it recommended that for public health interest the Dhaka WASA water should either be treated or boiled before drinking.
The survey found that WASA water is unsafe for human consumption when it contains pathogenic, or disease-causing microorganisms. The high prevalence of diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid, fever, cholera and bacillary dysentery among the populace has been traced to the consumption of unsafe water and unhygienic drinking water production practices. The most dangerous form of water pollution occurs when faecal contaminants enter the water supply. For public health interest they advised that before drinking Dhaka WASA water it should either be treated or boiled. Regrettably, no action followed in all these years.
What is most abhorrent is the protestors who went to the Dhaka WASA office to offer sherbet made of supply water to the WASA managing director alleged that they were facing intimidations. One of the organisers of the protest, Mizanur Rahman told New Age on Apr 25 that WASA sub-assistant engineer Syed Nabab Ali went to his residence and threatened to stop what he referred to as ‘drama’. Another protestor Monirul Islam Faraji of Rampura area said some unknown phone callers asked for the address of his residence. He said that in reply he requested the callers to come to his area to test the water. The incidents took place a day after the residents from Jurain, Shympur, Madhya Badda, Rampura and Tejgaon areas of the capital on staged an agitation on Apr 23 in front of the WASA office, demanding supply of pure water instead of low-quality and stinking water.
Asked for comment, Taqsem A Khan told New Age that the WASA official went to Mizan’s house to collect sample of water and found no contamination in the water. ‘‘A WASA team led by Syed Nabab Ali drank supply water at Mizan’s home and they did not find any problem. It’s true that there are some problems in connections in some areas and we are working to solve them,’’ said Taqsem. He also said that Mizan embarked on such activities to embarrass the WASA.
Sensible citizens will affirm that Mizanur Rahman and others have acted in the interest of the public, so he deserves admiration. On April 17, Transparency International Bangladesh, in a research report revealed that 93 per cent consumers purified water supplied by the WASA of their own accord before drinking. It also said that at least 91 per cent of WASA’s consumers in the capital boiled piped water to make it drinkable, burning natural gas amounting to 365,7,37,008 cubic metre, which costs approximately Tk 332.37 crore every year. The TIB survey on Dhaka WASA said there were “rampant graft and poor service.” Responding to the report of the TIB, the WASA managing director at a press conference on April 20 said that the WASA water is completely safe.
Almost 100 percent water of these slums was found with faecal contamination, the situation would be worse in the slums using open or other water sources. For the study, researchers collected 480 water samples—both from the last delivery point of WASA and the water stored for households use—from four slums of Dhaka.
As much as 99 percent water used by slum people (estimated 4 million) contains faecal contamination, revealed a study conducted on four Dhaka slums. The contaminated water has faecal coliform (bacteria) over 100 colony forming units (cfu) per 100-ml of water, posing a serious health hazard to its users, the study finds. The findings of the study, conducted early this year, were presented at a discussion jointly organised by WaterAid Bangladesh, Brac University, Lancaster University of the UK, and The Daily Star, as reported on May 29, 2017.
Meanwhile, on 13 May 2019 the High Court has expressed its dissatisfaction with Dhaka WASA for failing to examine water in 11 zones of the Dhaka and Narayanganj city corporations. The bench of Justice JBM Hasan and Justice Justice Md Khairul Alam expressed its dissatisfaction, during a writ petition hearing. According to Advocate Tanvir’s report, the water supplied by WASA to 16 areas of Dhaka— including Jurain, Pallabi, Mirpur, Mohammadpur and Postogola—is unusable.
Last but not least, the city dwellers want just safe water—nothing more, nothing less; and it is the Dhaka WASA’s duty to supply safe drinking water to the city dwellers.