The Southwest Coastal Region of Bangladesh is a part of the Ganges flood plain and has a rich biodiversity; geographically a brackish water regime made it vulnerable to natural disasters. Human civilization & culture of the region has developed through the utilization of natural resources and addressing natural disasters with indigenous knowledge, local strategies and technologies. Grassroots organizations ‘Paani Audhikar Committee-PAC’ (Water Rights Committee) are rainsing awareness and promoting advocay and maintenance of water points with peoples’ contribution and participations.
Coastal Region; Safe water; Traditional Rights; Human intervention; Sustainable management
Strategies: Formation of grassroots organizations ‘Paani Audhikar Committee-PAC’ (Water Rights Committee); Awareness & Media campaign; Identifying of local problems, needs and resources; Develop effective communication with the different administrative strata and policy actors; Conducted grassroots and policy advocacy; Repair and newly constructed of water points with peoples’ contribution and participations.
The Southwest Coastal Region of Bangladesh is a part of the Ganges flood plain and has a rich biodiversity; geographically a brackish water regime made it vulnerable to natural disasters. Human civilization & culture of the region has developed through the utilization of natural resources and addressing natural disasters with indigenous knowledge, local strategies and technologies. The development activities during the last 4 decades without considering its sensitive ecology and people’s interest resulted in massive degradation of environment-ecology and tidal water management.
Inhabitants of this region are victims of an enduring crisis of water resources for drinking and domestic uses. The crisis has increased the incidence of water-borne diseases mostly affecting women, children. Due to the increased salinity of soil and water, local agriculture has drastically declined and cattle have almost disappeared. People have lost their traditional right of access to water bodies. As a result, the social structure that had developed through decades of living together in this region has begun to break down.
Due to water scarcity, Dacope Upazila (sub-district, under the Khulna district) is one of the most vulnerable areas in this region. It has a total area of 991.85 square km, out of which 799.01sq. Km comprises mangrove forest Sundarbans with a population around 200,000.The local culture, civilization and livelihood have developed depending on the natural resources. Fishers derived their livelihood from the water bodies. Though agriculture used to be the principal occupation of the people, many occupations based on the natural resources also came into existence.
The local people, specially comprises of the poor and marginal people without access to safe water, and who are highly vulnerable to diseases caused by lack of safe water. This leads to loss of income and unbearable expense for health services.
Dacope Upazila (sub-district) under Khulna district in the Southwest coastal region of Bangladesh, geographically it’s a disaster prone, remote area with sub-tropical climate and comprising 107 villages
AOSED initiated a project (2007 – 2010) titled: Grassroots Initiative to Solve the Safe Water Crisis
Stakeholders: Poor and marginal peoples’ of deserving 4500 households, other stakeholders 117 elected representatives of Local government (Union Parishad-UPs), leaders of political parties, civil society, and government officials.
People’s organization-PAC, Union Parishad and DPHE jointly work for maintenance and management of the water points ensuring the follow-up of the solution at local level by local resources mobilization.
- People have become organized and have enhanced their knowledge and capacity to conserve safe water resources, conduct grassroots advocacy, local resources mobilization and developed a participatory management system of water points;
- Workload has been reduced around 2352 household for water collection;
- Political parties & allies have become unanimous regarding the safe water issue;
- Legal action has been initiated by the government to prohibit leasing out and illegal occupied of water bodies;
- Environment-unfriendly brackish water commercial shrimp culture has been reduced by 80% in Dacope Upazila through joint initiative of community people and government
- Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) with relevant Govt. organizations have become more sensitized regarding the safe water issue;
- The project has gained justification for expanding into the wider coastal region;
- Organization staff gained experience of this kind of multilateral approach and grew more confident.
How to address the lack of knowledge, information and capacity of community to develop a participatory water point management system and local resources mobilization? How to address social conflict and establish people’s right to water body and stop leasing and recover illegal occupied water body? How to address lack of effective coordination among the local government institute, community people and relevant Govt. authorities?
By following the implementation strategy that effectively contributed to the solution: Formation of grassroots organizations; Skill and capacity building; Awareness & Media campaign; Policy review; Workshop, seminar and sharing meeting; Develop effective communication among the different administrative strata, policy actors and the community people; Local resources mobilization Conducted lobby, advocacy and persuasion. These are effectively contributed to the project’s goal implementation and attainment.
The major impacts have given to the solution with the developed effective people’s organization, need assessment completion, root cause identification, define role & responsibilities of water users, relevant Government authorities and Local Government institute, common understanding has been established with the political parties & allies in district level, damaged water points are made effective and useful by renovation, a participatory management system has been develop for the water conservation and water points maintenance at grassroots level.
Workload, time and expense reduction for water collection of 2352 household, unused and damaged water points such as ponds, Pond sand Filter (PSF), Rain Water Harvesting System are reconstructed for ensuring effective use, developed effective communication with Government Officials, teachers, farmers, political leaders, civil society, journalists, local elected bodies, and different NGOs to ensure their respective contribution for implementing this solution and collected related feedback from them.
In spite of having different opinion, political parties & alliance become unanimous on this particular issue. Through this solution implementation, different Govt. organizations, elected people’s representatives, parliament members have been sensitized and local government becomes proactive with this initiative.
Suffered people will be most interested who are highly vulnerable for reducing agro-product, loss of right to access on water resources and diseases caused by water scarcity for drinking, domestic and agricultural purpose.
This solution is only the beginning of the grassroots struggle of the southwest region of Bangladesh. Activities and implementing strategy of the solution can make a precedent for other suffered community to receive and implement this experience in their own context for sustainable solution of safe water crisis.
Local people have evolved a participatory process of planning and management of local water resources at different administrative strata to sustain this initiative. Motivation, contribution, volunteerism have ensured development of community ownership.
Peoples’ Demands has been formulated in a participatory process and enhance capacity of people’s organization to conduct advocacy in favor of demands. Media campaign, conferences and discussion sessions were organized to sensitize policy makers.
Social conflict has been reduced between the rural community and influential circles, by various opinion-sharing meetings, with the participation of peoples’ representatives, political and civil society leaders, government officials and the influential people.
Policy makers became more sensitive to the issue and began implementing the policies more effectively. As there was administrative and social pressure on the influential people, they became more amenable. Hence, the victims of water discrimination and the influential circle were able to agree on a compromise solution through the mediation of government officials. Already the concerned government officials have decided not to lease out ponds and canals. Commercial shrimp culture has been reduced form 12600 hectares to 1200 hectares in Dacope.
Described the concepts and actions can be replicated to upscale in national regional level through conducting policy advocacy in securing water resources.
The grassroots people had no experience of working with NGOs and contributing for implementing any project; they believed that NGOs gave everything for free; they were convinced by the argument that their contribution will make them the owner of the benefits of the project.
When people rise, no obstacles are too big to overcome. People of Dacope have proved that success can be wrought out of the mouth of crisis. These successes are only the beginning of the struggle they have begun in a small locality in Bangladesh. In the present context, when world leaders are struggling to reach a consensus about climate change, Dacope has started to make some headway in the struggle for ensuring the right to fresh, pure and safe drinking water for a better humanitarian world.
Shamim Arfeen, Executive Director
334, Sher-A-Bangla Road (1st floor), Khulna-9100, Bangladesh
Phone: +88041813574, +88041731921, FAX: +88041731931