Sorrows of the rocky, beautiful Bandarban

The community-led mini water treatment plant in Natun Para, Bandarban. Committee President Babul Khan along with other members and DPHE Sub Assistant Engineer Monjel Hossain are seen (from the left side first).

Like most other parts of Bandarban, the scenic and rocky beauty of Natun Para will amaze anyone. The area is home for around 60 low-income families who have been living here for quite some time. Most of them are either small grocery shop owners or easy bike pullers or day labourers. As the inhabitants belong to the low-income group of Bandarban, they never dare to aspire for any luxury, rather only meet their everyday basic needs. The only luxury to them, perhaps, is to own a water filter at home. This entails a sad part of the rocky beauty – lack or safe drinking water.

“It was like living under utter misery, every capable family member had to walk for kilometres to fetch water directly from Sangu River,” said Md Babul Khan. It was only in July 2016, the DPHE Bandarban installed a mini water treatment plant there that directly pumps water from Sangu River, treats it through sedimentation, stone chips filter bed and sand filter and then supplies it to the Natun Para. Those who are a bit well-off purify this water for drinking purposes through a water filter that is being sold by private companies. Others directly drink it.

The best of this water management is that it is fully managed by the committee led by Babul Khan as its president. DPHE provides technical assistances like small scale repairs or reinstallation of the transmission line. It is pertinent to mention that due to the lack of financial resources, DPHE does not chemically treat and purify it. As a result, those who directly drink this water are exposed to water-borne diseases like diarrhoea. As Sangu river is located 4500 feet away, transmission lines are installed underneath the soil. Unfortunately, these lines get washed away by floods which are very common in Bandarban.

Natun Para is not a lone example of drinking water crisis in Bandarban. The entire district is suffering from the safe drinking water crisis in one way or another. For instance, all the hotels, restaurants and shops around the Sangu Bride area are dependent on privately supplied water both for drinking and household use. They meet their demand for household water by purchasing from a private supplier who extracts water from Sangu. They get drinking water packed in a 20-litre jar from a local business that directly extracts groundwater through deep tube well. Those who cannot afford to buy, fetch drinking water from the Bangladesh Army operated deep tube well free of cost.

DPHE supplies semi treated water to the Bandarban municipality from its Keching Ghata Plant to an approximate 2600 household. As none of the water extracted from the underground or supplied by DPHE is chemically treated, it is not fully safe for drinking. Those who can afford it, buy home-based water purifiers but the rest drink it directly.

“We do not have the facility to chemically treat the water we extract from Sangu,” said Anupam Dey, executive engineer of DPHE, Bandarban. He added that deep tube well water generally contains a higher level of iron and it is necessary to remove iron sediment before drinking it. Sadly, neither DPHE nor the private entrepreneurs have the technical and financial resources to deal with this matter.

DPHE pumps water from Sangu River for its Keching Ghata Water Treatment Plant by using water pump installed on a boat.

People who do not live within the vicinity of the pourashava, but in hard-to-reach areas, are the worst sufferers. They depend on the small hill streams called ‘chaara’. DPHE supplies water through Gravity Flow System (GFS) based chaara water distribution network to these hard to reach communities. It runs around 60 GFSs in hard to reach areas of Bandarban. But in case of a flash flood, the distribution network gets adversely affected – sometimes the entire distribution line gets washed away by such sudden flood. Due to remote location and lack of financial resources, it takes even more than a month to fix these small distribution systems.

The above scenario entails a blurry picture of the safe drinking water crisis in Bandarban. At the same time, it also identifies some areas including capacity enhancement of the public institutions and the importance of enhanced financing in this sector. Considering the inadequacy of public resources, the private sector can be encouraged to engage in the sustainable safe drinking water business.

This was first published in on 12 January 2020. Click to read

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