For women, children and communities around the world, water gives life. In Bangladesh, the water crisis affects both rural and urban areas, and is a matter of both water scarcity and water quality. While Bangladesh has made commendable progress in supplying safe water to its people, gross disparity in coverage still exists across the country.
The poor from the rural areas continue to migrate to the urban areas with the hope of being able to earn larger wages to support their families. Many of these people find shelter in Dhaka’s slum communities. These squatter communities are the most densely populated areas in the country. The enormous quantity of people living in such close quarters causes people living in these slums to have very poor health, compounded by the fact that water connections and toilets are scarce. Most people in these slums live on less than US $2 a day, and many live on less than US $1 a day. Acute poverty, overcrowding, poor housing, and unhealthy disposal of waste all play major roles in the poor quality of water, and life in these slums.
Since 2009, Johnson & Johnson and Water.org have worked in partnership to empower thousands of poor in Bangladesh with access to safe water, improved sanitation through WaterCredit. WaterCredit puts financial tools to work, allowing people in need to access small loans for water connections or toilets. From January 2014 through May 2015, Water.org and a microfinance partner organization, Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK) worked to disperse loans for water connections and toilets to an urban slum community in Dhaka, Bangladesh where women and girls were primarily responsible for finding water each day, and open defecation was the norm.
Among those women and girls living in this slum are women like Shekha. Shekha faced many challenges related to not having access to a water source or toilet at home. She and her husband had a shallow tube well, but during the dry season the water table declined limiting the amount of water available to the couple and their children. Additionally, the water they could get from the tube well was contaminated with iron and bacteria.
Without a proper supply of water at home, Shekha and her children took turns retrieving water from a distant source. The trip took twenty-five minutes each way, and their need for water required at least three trips per day. The time they spent collecting water was time Shekha could not work, and her children could not attend school. Shekha knew this was not a sustainable solution.
Through Johnson & Johnson and Water.org’s program in Dhaka, loans were dispersed to women like Shekha who could afford to finance a tap or toilet for her home. The program benefitted more than 7,500 residents, 91% of whom repaid their loans with ease, and all of them now have access to safe water and sanitation. To enhance the sustainability of the solutions, Water.org also carried out an educational campaign to provide context and understanding for good hygiene practices among the community members.
Following the completion of the program, Water.org measured the impact, particularly on women and girls living in the slum, and the results demonstrated success. Shekha shared, “Earlier we had to suffer a lot for collection of safe drinking water. Now I am getting more time for cooking, washing clothes and other work due to not wasting time to collect water like earlier. Now I am spending my free time with my sons, we are healthy, and we are traveling different places and meeting with relatives. We are very happy for getting access to sufficient clean water.”
From time to work and care for children, to having the resources needed to properly care for their personal hygiene, women like Shekha reported positive life-transformations as a result of access to safe water and toilets.
It is exciting to see Water.org’s scalable financial model can pave the way to progress and opportunity. Water.org hopes you will help them spread this message. In the spirit of World Water Day, today on March 22nd we invite you to join their efforts to celebrate the water within your reach by sharing what water gives you.
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