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Dhaka's looming water crisis
Dhaka city needs a firm water policy based on its projected growth by the year 2050, says Syed Ishtiaque Reza

          DURING the last couple of days a number of vernacular dailies reported that a severe water crisis is persisting in different parts of the metropolis. In some areas people are suffering from jaundice and other water borne diseases because of improper sanitation and sewerage system.
In every dry season the city experiences such crisis. Water and sanitation problem has been part of life for Dhaka people for many years as the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA) is able to ensure water supply for only 50 per cent of the city dwellers.
The government is promise-bound to reach sanitation facilities to every citizens by the year 2010. But it does not seem possible like all other promises. At present only 20 per cent of the city population are provided with sanitation facilities from 640 km sewerage lines of Dhaka WASA and only 27 per cent of the water line subscribers are availing the sewerage facilities. Nearly 40 per cent dwellers have arranged healthy sanitation system through installation of septic tank. About 15 per cent people are using pit latrine and 25 per cent (mostly the slum dwellers) are using open spaces.
Dhaka WASA authorities admit that only 30 per cent of the citizens in the metropolis are provided with sewerage facilities. The 640 km sewerage line carries 1.20 cubic meter wastes everyday to the sewerage treatment plant at Pagla. The present 48,500 sewerage line subscribers are also deprived of proper services as the network has not been expanded and the age-old pipeline not replaced. A pipeline beginning from Farmgate area installed during 1974 to 1978 period reached Pagla through Nakhalpara, Tejgaon, Rampura, Basabo and Sayedabad. In this long way the pipeline suffered serious defects. In some areas the sewerage lines mixed with the water supply line. The low-lying areas in Dhaka are yet to get any planned sewerage and water supply line system. This has resulted in the spread of water-borne diseases.
Dhaka WASA started supplying water in this city since 1963. At present it can meet only 30 per cent of the total requirement. By the year 2020, it would be able to meet nearly 40 per cent of the water requirement. Everyday WASA lifts 1.55 billion litres of water through its four water treatment plants and 401 deep tube wells. Only ten per cent of the waters are collected from rivers and supplied to the city dwellers after treatment. It is reported that WASA is facing serious difficulties to supply waters as most of the 1610 km long water pipeline is not working now. Nearly two-thirds pipeline require immediate replacement for usual and safe water supply.
Existence of old equipments in a number of water plants, severe pollution in the river Buriganga and delay in repairing underground pipelines in different parts of the city have been plaguing the Dhaka WASA in recent time. So poor and old are the equipments of three water plants in Dhaka and Narayanganj that the output of these plants has dropped almost by 50 per cent. With only the Syedabad water treatment plant treating as per expectation, Dhaka WASA is facing severe crisis to meet the demand of millions of consumers daily.
No doubt situation will be worst in the approaching summer when the demand of water will go up, leaving WASA to face frequent load-shedding and hurdle due to power crisis to run its hundreds of pumps in drawing underground water.
The average shortfall of water in Dhaka is 500 million litres a day and it soars to 600 million litres, as the demand goes high in summer. If the present trend continues, the shortfall will be 700 million litres in 2005 and 1200 million litres in 2010, the newspapers reported quoting WASA officials.
WASA treats more than 300 million litres of water in these plants. But it supplies 1.50 billion litres against the demand of two billion litres. WASA depends mainly on groundwater to make up for the shortfall. It has planned to install the second phase of Sayedabad water treatment plant and a number of other projects, including the mega Pagla treatment plant. But due to fund shortage, the implementation of both the projects are delayed. Sayedabad plant was approved in 1993-94 in three phases with the capacity of producing total 900 million litres of water a day.
For the installation of the second phase, authorities sought financial support from the Danish government that has put conditions on commercialisation of Wasa, amendment to the Wasa Act, pollution-free water source of Sayedabad plant and reduction of systems loss to 30 per cent from 50 per cent to help set up the Tk 3 billion project.
Water and sanitation cuts through the centre of development work. It is integral to health, nutrition, education, livelihoods, and the environment. Dhaka WASA tries to overcome the water shortage problem by installing more and more wells. Declining water level problem is overcome by resinking water wells which is not long lasting.
The appointment of a chief executive for WASA from private sector is encouraging. But the organisation also needs a strong management in other areas, too. Regularisation of illegal connections is seen as an option for better management of the water supply situation in Dhaka. And Dhaka WASA immediately needs a hydrogeologist to strengthen its monitoring programme.
Experts in a number seminar suggested that a firm water policy for the city of Dhaka needs to be formulated based on its projected growth by the year of 2050. The policy should address key issues like water demand, distribution network, source development and wastewater management. It should emphasise short and long term goals, development and acquisition of appropriate technologies for this sector. An integrated approach is essential for sustainable development ensuring best use of limited resources in this sector.


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