Monsoon Season and WASH Efforts in Bangladesh

A WASH Program Assistant discusses hygiene issues with adolescent girls at a forum in Joypurhat (Photo Credit BRAC)

This year the first heavy rains began to fall in April across Bangladesh. For a country with inadequate water sanitation, the onset of monsoon season – from June through September –  is a reminder of the impending spread of disease, ground-pollution, and mudslides from the heavy downpours and flooding. Bangladesh, which is home to a confluence of over 700 rivers and tributaries, is no stranger to these bodies of water overflowing and causing widespread hardship, disease, and death – a problem which may only worsen as temperatures and sea levels rise over the course of the next years.

Year-round WASH –  Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – remain some of the most difficult and longest-running issues faced in Bangladesh: access to safe & clean drinking water, access to basic toilets, and ways to separate human waste from contact with people, and nurturing good hygiene practices (Sustainable Development Goal Six). These problems are greatly exacerbated by the monsoon season in Bangladesh on a yearly basis as the floodwaters destroy homes, contaminate drinking water, and spread disease.

Diaspora Gives Bangladesh empowers the Bangladeshi diaspora in the United States & Canada to give to organizations actively working to improve conditions on the ground. The importance and urgency of these  efforts are further enhanced in such times, when more than 670,000 Rohingya refugees are living in temporary camps and are susceptible to the monsoons.

DGB eligible organizations working in Bangladesh on WASH programs:

Dhaka Ahsania Mission

JAGO Nari

BRAC

Friendship NGO

Organizations working on these issues aim to create awareness of the dangers of poor WASH conditions and the benefits of safe water and sanitary latrines. Often, achieving this goal requires motivation to spur what can mean a complete behavioral change. By promoting correct hygiene standards among disadvantaged and rural communities, those in need are better prepared to face the hardships in everyday life and, in particular, when the monsoons arrive. As part of their WASH programs, these organizations also teach people the benefits of covering food, disposing of solid wastes in a specific place, handwashing after use of the latrine, and regular use of hand sanitizers.

The comprehensive WASH program of Dhaka Ahsania Mission began in 1999 and for over 25 years addresses issues such as safe drinking water, improved sanitation, and hygiene providing educational activities. Their efforts towards ensuring access to safe drinking water achieved through the removal of contaminants, such as arsenic and iron are coupled with efforts to attain sustainability by providing microfinance services to local entrepreneurs to operate their own wells, or engage in agriculture, as a result providing locals with the double benefit of improving their communities and gaining access to a source of income.

Community hygiene courses (Photo Credits DAM)  

Ironically, clean water is often scarcest during floods. Dirty runoff leads to contamination of bodies of water which would otherwise be suitable for human consumption. Drinking water which has been contaminated by flood waters can lead to infection or the spread of diseases, such as cholera. JAGO Nari, which works in the coastal areas of Bangladesh to empower women and improve their day-to-day lives, has installed deep hand tube wells to give access to clean water for the poor communities it serves and which are particularly at risk of flood and contamination.

Operating within 289 sub-districts in Bangladesh, BRAC as part of their integrated WASH services has brought access to safe drinking water for 2.35 million Bangladeshis. Part of these initiatives are aimed at ensuring the most vulnerable areas which are prone to seasonal & natural disasters are reinforced by installing climate-resilient WASH infrastructure. Where the option of installing deep hand tube-wells is an impossibility, organizations such as DAM install sand filters for pond water and water treatment facilities to bring safe water to these communities.

Women are collecting arsenic free safe drinking water from a newly constructed two headed deep tube well constructed by BRAC WASH Program in Chitalmari, Bagerhat. (Photo Credit BRAC) Gathering water at the tube wells (Photo Credit JAGO Nari)

The problems surrounding clean and accessible water run deeper than meets the eye. Collecting clean water for drinking has traditionally been a responsibility of Bangladeshi women. More than ever, this is the case as hundreds of thousands of working-age males have migrated in search of jobs after climate change affected their livelihoods. DGB’s vetted organizations run WASH programs which give Bangladeshi girls & women safe and sanitized places to gather water, wash, and use the toilet. Regular bathing areas may be inaccessible during floods, as such women may be forced to bathe in areas which may put them in danger of assault – a serious problem also experienced by women in neighboring India. The facilities built with BRAC’s support provide the privacy necessary to maintain safe levels hygiene during floods. By providing safe and easy access to drinkable water, women are empowered to spend more time on activities such as visiting a doctor, attending school, or managing their households.

Safe WASH areas for girls and women (Photo credit JAGO Nari)  Good hygiene practices! (Photo Credit BRAC)

In a country prone to natural disasters, WASH issues can become dire in the aftermath. Friendship NGO – which operates in remote areas of Northern & Southern Bangladesh –  provides WASH support to 258 rural communities not only through the installation of various cleal-water points, but also by training technicians to repair tube wells and other water points for post disaster situations, including monsoons. In remote areas such as these where water & sanitation issues a part of life, Friendship recognizes the cultural and historical obstacles in terms of promoting hygienic lifestyles and uses methods such as organizing traditional folk shows to raise community awareness about WASH issues while also recruiting local volunteers for promotion of services and as lifestyle ambassadors to create a truly dynamic approach to integrated and sustainable healthy communities.

In many rural areas, ponds have been the main source of drinking water (left). Tube wells such as these require proper maintenance, especially after natural disasters (right) (photo credits Friendship NGO)

WASH problems have been amplified as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled from Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017. The Rohingya refugees have largely been placed in camps located in areas which are predicted to be most affected by floods associated with Monsoon rains. The camps’ rudimentary sewage and drainage systems are prone to failure, posing an increased risk for water-borne diseases like cholera being spread.

Our vetted organizations remain committed to administering Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene relief and solutions in Bangladesh. While progress is being made every day, the monsoon season represents a particularly difficult time for the country. To support the work of Dhaka Ahsania Mission, JAGO NariBRAC, and Friendship NGO, visit the Give Today page below.