Situation analysis: This project focuses on northern Bangladesh, where the situation concerning water resources and the provision of sanitary facilities is most precarious . The water problems are caused, on the one hand, by ‘too little’, and on the other hand by ‘too much’ water. The water shortage in the drought-prone regions is caused by the rapid depletion of groundwater, which is worsened by the extreme weather variability and climate change. Added to this is a poor sanitary infrastructure throughout the country, and consequently a lack of facilities allowing good hygiene practice, which carries high risks of diseases. In contrast, people in the flood-prone regions are confronted with severe and increasingly frequent natural disasters. Tornadoes have increased in recent years, and floods and flood surges cause soil erosion which threatens food security and people’s lives.
Water: The greatest challenge comes from the seasonal variations and the associated poor water supply throughout the region. Large areas in the north of Bangladesh, which suffer from growing groundwater depletion, are further threatened by the overuse of drilled wells and intensive irrigation in agriculture. The drilled wells only secure drinking water for three months a year (July-September). For the rest of the time, the local inhabitants live according to a sort of ‘water scarcity principle’, i.e. they use less water by consuming less drinking water, washing less frequently or refraining completely from bathing. This in turn increases the risk of diseases that are caused by a lack of hygiene. The difficult water situation is made worse because approx. 15% of all drilled wells are privately owned, which prevents their being used by ‘non-privileged people’. The problem with the public wells is their lack of maintenance and management, and consequently their malfunctioning. In addition to the wells, there are also public water reservoirs that are fed by rainwater, are government property and are used in times of water shortage However, these public water reservoirs are often leased to large landowners who reduce access for private use in months of water shortage to a minimum.
Sanitary infrastructure and sanitation / hygiene: 70% of all households in the project region have no access to latrines; old people, disabled people and children under 8 normally don’t use a toilet. In the months when water is scarce, the toilets cannot be used at all because of the lack of water for flushing. The situation with sanitary facilities at home is by no means better than at school, but the socio-cultural situation in Bangladesh prohibits the use of ‘other’ toilets or personal hygiene in public. Girls and women are particularly affected by this situation, since it forces them to mostly, or completely, miss school lessons for around 3 – 5 days a month (20 per cent of school time) because of menstruation. Almost a third of female pupils said in a survey that their monthly period has a negative impact on their school performance.
Schools / health centres / markets: Most schools, health centres and markets in the project region have only limited or no access to water and sanitary facilities. There is no water in the schools to wash one’s hands; there is also a lack of awareness about the need for hygiene. When the children want to drink water or have to go to the toilet, they often go home (and often don’t come back afterwards).
Irrigation: The small farmers have mostly limited access to water for irrigation. Irrigation is mostly carried out with diesel pumps which are operated by large landowners and are leased to the small farmers. In the planting season, the cost of water procurement is more than 30% (!) of total expenditure.
Previous activities of Caritas Switzerland: Caritas Switzerland has already implemented various water projects in Bangladesh in the past. The current project builds on the water consortium project II (2014-2017), which was successfully completed.