Bangladesh, a diverse and culturally rich nation located in South Asia, is loved for its beautiful green scenery and numerous waterways. With sound economic policies and political reforms, Bangladesh has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Bangladesh’s remarkable economic growth has helped lift the majority of the population out of poverty. Millions are now able to enjoy fundamental living necessities such as access to clean water and sanitation that were not available before. However, there is still room for improvement. Here are the top 10 facts about sanitation in Bangladesh.
10 facts about sanitation in Bangladesh
- Contaminated water: Over 40 percent of all improved water sources in Bangladesh are contaminated with E. coli which could cause diarrhea, dysentery or cholera. Arsenic was also found in Bangladeshi groundwater, which could lead to cancers and social stigma. About 12.4 percent of the population was exposed to arsenic-affected water in 2012, a significant improvement from 26.6 percent in 2000. However, with 19.4 million people drinking this unsafe water, Bangladesh remains the country with the largest proportion of people exposed to arsenic contamination globally.
- Open defecation: Bangladesh has made incredible progress in reducing the practice of open defecation. Through the implementation of innovative behavior change campaigns and the construction of new latrine facilities, the rate of open defecation in the population declined from 34 percent in 1990 to only 1 percent in 2015.
- Menstrual hygiene: The taboo around menstrual health is prevalent in Bangladesh, emerging from an absence of proper awareness and knowledge. Only 36 percent of adolescent girls know about menstruation when it first occurs, and only 10 percent use sanitary pads during their periods. Additionally, only 22 percent of schools have separate toilet facilities for girls. This lack of knowledge and proper menstrual hygiene management directly impacts the education and well-being of Bangladeshi girls. About 40 percent of girls miss three days of school during menstruation, and nearly one out of three adolescent girls said that menstruation affects their school performance.
- Hygienic behavior: A 2013 UNICEF survey found that only 59.1 percent of the population wash their hands with water and soap. Another survey in 2014 reveals that only 40 percent of households have water and soap available for handwashing, compared to only 16 percent of the poorest households. The South Asia WASH Results Programme has helped to improve hygiene practices by teaching hygiene habits to over 4.1 million primary school children from 2014 to 2018.
- Economic cost: Inadequate sanitation and hygiene cost Bangladesh an estimate of $4.23 billion, which is 6.3 percent of the GDP. The largest contributors to this economic impact are health-related losses, which account for 84 percent of the impact, or 5.3 percent of the nation’s GDP. Costs of accessing cleaner water, welfare and time losses, productivity losses also contribute to the high economic impact.
- Access to hygienic toilets and sanitation facilities: The rate of sanitation coverage is only 61 percent, growing at 1.1 percent annually. More than 40 percent of all latrines in Bangladesh is still unimproved, and the sanitation facilities for children with disabilities are still lacking. Bangladesh is working towards increasing access to hygienic sanitation facilities with several projects supported by the World Bank, focusing on low-income and vulnerable communities.
- Disparities between different regions and households: UNICEF found that only 31.6 percent of people in Sylhet Division have access to E. coli-free water, comparing to 71.8 percent in Rangpur Division. Poor households are less likely to have drinking water on their premises, and thus have to spend more time collecting water from outside sources. They are also 10 times more likely to use unimproved sanitation than the rich.
- Universal access to improved water sources: 98 percent of the Bangladeshi population now has drinking water from technologically improved sources. This is incredible progress since only 79 percent of people had such access in 1990. About 83 percent of the urban population and 71.9 percent of the rural population had improved water sources available on their premises.
- Floods: Bangladesh is prone to flooding and water levels could remain high for months, which could damage freshwater ponds and shallow wells. Toilets also tend to overflow and become unusable due to the floods, contaminating water sources and exposing people to dangerous diseases. Since 2011, a local NGO called Uttaran has helped to construct improved toilet facilities that could survive floods and wells that provided safe water that benefited more than 2,000 people in these vulnerable communities.
- Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS): The successful innovative approach from Bangladesh has since become an established approach used in many other developing countries to improve hygiene and sanitation. The approach aims to eradicate open defecation with the combination of community pressure and NGO support. It also focuses on personal responsibilities to finance one’s own toilets without imposing external designs and promote low-cost homemade toilets using local materials, which makes toilets a lot more accessible and affordable even to the poorest population. This approach has enabled hundreds of rural villages to reach 100 percent sanitation coverage in less than a year.
With the continuing efforts of the government and the aid from different NGOs, Bangladesh has achieved considerable progress in sanitation developments. Though many challenges still remain, Bangladesh is committed and making great strides to progress towards clean water, sanitation and hygiene for all.
– Minh-Ha La