Female advocates for rainwater harvesting in Bangladesh’s salt-infested coast – Global Issues

Lalita Roy now has access to clean water and also provides a service to her community by working as a pani apa (water nurse) for the community’s stormwater harvesting facilities. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS
  • by Rafiqul Islam (khulna, bangladeshi)
  • Inter Press Service

“There used to be a shortage of drinking water. I had to travel one to two kilometers every day to bring water,” Roy, a resident of Bajua Union under Dakope Upazila in Khulna, told IPS.

She had to collect water lined up; one water pitcher was not enough to meet her daily household demand.

“We need two pitchers of drinking water a day. I had to spend two hours every day collecting water. So there were several problems. I had health complications and I was unable to do housework due to time constraints,” she said.

After receiving a rainwater harvesting facility from the Gender-response Climate Adaptation (GCA) Project, which is being implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Roy now collects drinking water using the rainwater harvesting facility, making her life easier.

“I’m getting the facilities and now I can give two more hours to my family…that’s why I’ve benefited from it,” she added.

Shymoli Boiragi, another beneficiary of Shaheber Abad village under Dakope Upazila, said women in her area have suffered a lot in the past collecting drinking water as they had to walk one to three kilometers every day to fetch water.

“We lost both time and housework. After we got rainwater harvesting installations, we took advantage of it. Now we don’t have to go far to get water so we can do more housework,” Boiragi said.

Shymoli revealed that coastal residents had several health problems caused by consuming salt water and also spent money collecting the water.

“But now we conserve rainwater during the ongoing monsoon and will drink it for the rest of the year,” she added.


With support from the project, stormwater harvesting facilities were installed in approximately 13,300 households among 39 union parishioners in Khunla and Satkhira. A what panic (water sister) has been deployed in every union of the beneficiaries.

Roy, now deployed as a what panicsaid the GCA project surveyed the households that needed aquatic plants and selected her as one: what panic for two departments.

“As a pani apa, I was given various tools. I go to every household twice a month. I clean up their water tanks (rainwater plants) and repair them if necessary,” he added.

Roy said she provides services to 80 households that have rainwater harvesting facilities, and when they have a problem with their water tanks, she goes to their homes to fix plants.

“I visit 67 households that have a water installation once or twice a month for maintenance. If they call me on the cell phone, I also go to their homes,” said Ullashini Roy, another what panic from Shaheber Abad village.

She said a household gives her Taka 20 per month for her maintenance services, while she gets Taka 1,340 (US$15) from 67 households, which helps her with family expenses.

Ahoke Kumar Adhikary, regional project manager of the Gender-Response Climate Adaptation Project, said it supported the installation of stormwater harvesting facilities in 13,300 households. Each plant will store 2,000 liters of rainwater in each tank for the dry season.

The aquatic plants need maintenance, so the project made use of what panics for each union parish (ward or council). They work on maintenance at the municipal level.

“They offer a number of services, and we call them pani apas. The work of pani apas is to go to every household and provide the services,” Adhikary said.

He said the pani apas receive Taka 20 per month from each household for providing their services, and if they need to replace taps or filters on the aquatic plants, they replace them.

The pani apas costs for equipment replacement of the aquatic plants, he added.


The coastal strip of Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change as it is severely affected by cyclones, floods and storm surges every year, destroying freshwater resources. The freshwater aquifer is also affected by salinity due to rising sea levels.

Ullashini Roy said fresh water was not available in the coastal region and people’s drinking water was scarce.

“The water you’re looking at is salty. The underground water is also salty. The people of the region cannot use salt water for drinking and household purposes,” Adhikary said.

Ahmmed Zulfiqar Rahaman, a hydrologist and climate change expert at the Dhaka-based think tank Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), said that if sea levels rise by 50 centimeters by 2050, the salinity of the surface will reach Gopalganj and Jhalokati districts – 50 km within the mainland of the coastal strip, accelerating the drinking water crisis there.


According to a 2019 study, people who consume salt water suffer from various physical problems, including acidity, stomach problems, skin diseases, psychological problems and hypertension.

It is even blamed for early marriages because the salt content gradually changes the skin color of girls from light to gray.

“There is no fresh water around us. After drinking salt water, we suffered from various waterborne diseases such as diarrhea and cholera,” Ullashini said.

Hypertension and high blood pressure are common among coastal residents. The study also found that people feel psychological stress caused by constantly collecting fresh water.

Shymoli said when a family’s stored drinking water runs out; the family members are concerned because it is not easy to collect in the coastal region.


Rahaman said river flows in Bangladesh decrease rapidly during the dry season, but a solution needs to be found for the coastal area.

The hydrologist suggested that one possible solution is to build more freshwater reservoirs in the coastal area through proper management of community-level ponds.

Rahaman said low-cost rainwater harvesting technology should be transferred to the community level so that coastal residents can reserve rainwater during monsoons and use it during the dry season.

He added that the government should provide subsidies for desalination plants, as desalination of salt water is costly.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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