It was perfect; the protests. Protests against the water supply authority for its inability to provide safe drinking water on our taps.
It was the perfect way to seek accountability from the capital’s water supply authority. At the same time, it was also quite dramatically unique. It had to be dramatic, as nobody listens to anyone these days.
Despite that fact, we have never seen such kind of a protest perhaps in the history of Bangladesh. One Mr Mizanur Rahman, a dweller of Dhaka’s Jurain area, wanted to show and prove that the quality of drinking water as well as water-for-use of his home to the Wasa authorities was poor, and invited the chief of Wasa to drink a glass of lemonade prepared with the supply water.
Earlier on another occasion, the Wasa chief had claimed that the water supplied by his organization was 100% pure and safe to drink. Our poor chief!
He shouldn’t have, perhaps, in the first place, claimed that his water was so pure.
As far as I could monitor the media reports, both the chief engineer as well as the MD were ubiquitously claiming that their water was pure at its source.
I also heard them blaming the supply lines, pipes, and channels for the contamination of their water.
We agree. But does Wasa’s responsibility end there? Is supplying safe water at source enough for an organization like Wasa? Who would, then, ensure safe drinking water at the consumers’ end? The city corporation? Or any other government agency?
Not at all. The task for delivering safe and usable drinking water to the taps of all households has to be shouldered by the water supplying company.
All the water supply authorities across the globe do that. Somebody needs to instill this thought into the brains of Wasa’s officials.
I believe Bangladesh’s water supplying authority is still following the UN MDG goal. That goal said that all citizens must have access to water.
However, that has changed into the SDG’s access to “safe” water. The water must be drinkable at the consumers’ end. I noticed that the mediamen, too, while grilling the MD and the chief engineer, didn’t ask this question.
They didn’t ask how the supplying authority would make sure that the consumers get safe water to drink.
The Wasa officials have been blaming external contaminative elements that enter through the pipes for the contaminated water at the consumers’ end.
Well, after the lemonade episode, I spoke to an expert who works in the water sector.
He told me that, due to the lack of proper supply, the outward pressure of water inside the pipes is not synchronized across the country. That’s the reason why the external contaminative elements can enter the pipeline and pollute the water flowing in them.
In the countries where the citizens can drink tap water, they are successful in keeping the inner pressure of water within the pipes at a certain level so that nothing can enter the pipes even when there’s a leak. I have heard that Dhaka Wasa is in the process of changing the old pipes with new ones and they have covered about 50% of the city with this project. However, the question remains whether they can ensure constant pressure of water within the pipeline. The task ahead is to ensure the supply for all, and that too has to be safe.
Dhaka Wasa officials didn’t have the courage to drink the lemonade that Mr Mizanur Rahman had brought for them. Why? They also know that the water may not be drinkable without boiling it.
Why didn’t they want to drink the jug of water that the Jurain-dweller brought? The colour of the water? Certainly, the colour radiated a grave message that it was not safe for drinking.
Or was it that the Wasa officials already knew the water wasn’t drinkable without boiling? Yes, that’s the common public knowledge or awareness right now. The people actually have been drinking their water boiled for a long, long time.
Now, why did Dhaka-dwellers start boiling their water before drinking or cooking?
I asked around. Most of them answered that they would always drink tap water in the 70s and 80s.
It was during the floods of 88 and 98 when most of the home reservoirs went under water. It was also at that time when the government had campaigned that everyone should either boil their water or use purifiers.
Then, with the ever-increasing population in the city, there was the issue of faulty and damaged pipelines.
The water supplying company put the last nail on the faith in tap water when it came up with a bottled water named Shanti. That was a great mistake for the company.
Marketing Shanti meant the tap water was of inferior quality. That’s how Wasa destroyed the image of tap water.
Having said all this, we have to agree that the consumers have not created their own water woes. It is the planners, policy-makers, the water supply authority, along with their lack of understanding about water supply which has created this mess.
Now, we have to agree that we are in a serious water crisis in terms of availability and safety. We have to find out the possible ways for a solution, and not ignore the crisis at hand.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.