Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation leads millions of our people to various health problems. Water and vector born diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, worm infestation and polio, malaria, hepatitis A and E are too common in the country. These diseases are specially very dangerous for the children under five. WHO states that one tenth of the global disease burden is preventable by improving water supply, sanitation, hygiene and management of water resources. Prompt action is required to ensure that these are implemented properly and sustained especially to protect our children.
Today, one person in five across the world has no access to safe drinking water, and one in two lacks safe sanitation. According to the statistics of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, about 22 percent of the population of the country are still exposed to drinking water which does not comply with WHO standards. On the other hand, surface water is usually polluted and requires treatment. A major public health concern is the arsenic contamination in the ground water. However, the government claims about 90 percent people have the access to safe water.
The picture of sanitation in the country is confusing too. Government claims 88 percent sanitation coverage in the country. But maximum of them use pit latrines which does not conform the standard. JMP Survey shows that only 36 percent of the populations are using improved sanitation that is water-sealed latrines which maintain the standard. However the government says it is 39 percent.
The statistical jargon of high coverage by the government creates a false sense of complacency in the general population and policy makers. So it is imperative for the country to depict the actual portrait with a stronger empirical data and contextualise the problems faced in water and sanitation sector.
Poor sanitation and unsafe water threatens children’s survival as a fecally-contaminated environment is directly linked to diarrhoeal disease, one of the biggest killers of infants. More than 2.2 million people, mostly in developing countries like Bangladesh die each year from diseases associated with poor water and sanitary conditions. Over 90 per cent of them occur to children under the age of 5. Every year, more than 40,00000 children under five die in developing countries due to diarrhoea and pneumonia which could be easily preventable by improving sanitation and creating awareness to practice hygiene such as simple hand washing. But this practice is not followed by most of us. Research by ICDDR,B with the help of Bangladesh Public Health Engineering Department and UNICEF reveals that less than 1 percent of our people wash their hands with soap before they eat and fewer than 17 percent wash their hands with soap or ash after defecation.
Md Mustafizur Rahaman, Chief Engineer, Department of Public Health Engineering pointed out that hand washing with soap for only 20 seconds before eating and after defecation can lead to a reduction of diarrhoeal episodes and pneumonia by 50 percent which means the life of almost 20 thousands of our children each year can be saved. He urged to improve the effort to promote handwashing on a large scale.
Improvements in drinking-water quality through household water treatment, such as chlorination at point of use and adequate domestic storage, can also reduce diarrhoeal episodes by 35 to 39 per cent.
“Picture of sanitation is worse in slums and rural Bangladesh is worse where there are ignorance, poverty, too little space to set a toilet, traditional practice of open defecation, the use of hanging latrines, and lack of knowledge about handwashing which pose a serious threat to health”, said Shirin Hussain, Programme Communication Specialist, UNICEF. She underscored on giving special focus on them.
Dr Khairul Islam, Country Representative of WaterAid Bangladesh said “Sanitation and water-related improvements are vital to meet the Millennium Development Goals. It has multifaceted values which can reduce child mortality to a significant level and helps improve health and nutritional status remarkably. Again, it brings social and economical benefits for family, community and the nation”. Cost-effective, resilient and sustainable solutions have proven to alleviate that burden.” He also added, “Evidence-based analysis shows that hygiene and sanitation are among the most cost-effective public health interventions to reduce childhood mortality. Sanitation for all requires neither colossal sum of money nor breakthrough scientific discoveries. The economic return of investing in improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation is almost ten folds. Investing in water management will have dual benefits for health and agriculture.”
“The main challenge we are facing to cover sanitation services for slum dwellers and some rural parts is inadequate space which acts as major barrier to set up a toilet. Using existing, proven approaches and technologies, we could meet the MDG sanitation goal and our target of achieving sanitation for all by 2010”, said Engineer Md Ibrahim, Executive Engineer of the Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE).
However, according to the experts, bringing the standard of household toilets up to a level which meets the minimum criteria adequately by separating human faeces from the environment is also crucial for heath and remains a big challenge.
General Assembly of the United Nations has declared 2008 as International Year of Sanitation (IYS) with a view to recognise the enormous impact of sanitation on public health, poverty reduction, economic and social development and the environment. The government of Bangladesh also observes October as the month of sanitation and set a target of achieving sanitation for all by the year 2010.
For millions of people in the country, a toilet represents a life-changing dream, a dream of better health, higher income, more education, higher social status, a cleaner living environment and for the children in that group, a better chance of living to celebrate their fifth birthdays. Let us make their dream come true.
Source: The Daily Star