Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, has this year been adjudged the worst city on earth. The reasons for making such an assessment could be many. But, to a large number of its residents, the city deserves to be adjudged so because of its failure to supply pure and safe drinking water in sufficient quantities. The Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) does not have any record of making available sufficient volume of water, not even when the number of inhabitants of Dhaka city was within a manageable range.
With the passage of time the population of the city has increased manifold. To accommodate an exponentially increasing population, the city has expanded in all directions. The DWASA has installed supply lines to most part of expanded areas. But what it could not ensure is the supply of water in sufficient volume because it does not have the means to do so. The state-owned water and sewerage authority is managing only a half of the water requirement of Dhaka city and it is mainly dependent on underground water for making available one of the key factors supporting life on earth.
Such large dependence on a sole source has given rise to problems of fast depletion of ground water. Experts have estimated that ground water of Dhaka is going down by a metre every year because of a large-scale lifting by WASA and other entities, industrial or otherwise. The depletion has also been forcing the DWASA to engage in sinking deep tube wells again and again in different areas of the city to reach the fast receding underground water table at substantial cost. Unfortunately, the agency could not ensure supply of greater volume of water from surface source such as rivers despite the fact the Dhaka city is encircled by a good number of rivers.
The DWASA once had a surface supply source - the river Buriganga. But that supply source was discarded long ago because of extreme pollution of the water of the river. The authorities had announced a number of plans to add new surface water sources with external assistance. But for unexplained reasons the plans are yet to be materialised. A couple of other factors bedevil water management by the DWASA. One is contamination of water because of frequent digging of holes along the supply line by other utility agencies and individuals and the other is rampant pilferage of water through unauthorised connections.
In such a situation, the residents, particularly those who live in densely populated areas of the city, are the victims of severe water shortage. There are some specific areas in both old and new parts of Dhaka where the water supply-shortage is chronic. Despite repeated media attention, there has not been any improvement in the situation. During the current heat wave and drought-like situation, their plight has only worsened. Many residents of these areas are found moving to distant places to collect water even during the dead hours of night.
Any city, that claims to be a modern one, can not subject its inhabitants to sufferings, in terms of availability of utilities such as water and power. The government has taken up quite a number of high-profile projects, each costing a large amount of money. There is no harm in executing such projects. But the first priority of any government worth its name should be meeting the basic minimum necessities of its citizens. It is expected that the present government will look into water shortage issue in that spirit.