Women advocate for rainwater harvesting in salinity-affected coastal Bangladesh – 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) tending to the community’s rainwater harvesting plants. Credit: Rafiqul Islam / IPS
  • by Rafiqul Islam (Khulna, Bangladesh)
  • Interpress service

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

He had to collect water while standing in line; one water jug ​​was not enough to meet his daily household needs.

“We need two jugs of drinking water a day. Every day I had to spend two hours collecting water. So there were various problems. I had health problems and I couldn’t do household chores due to lack of time,” he said.

After getting a rainwater harvesting plant from a Gendered Climate Change (GCA) project implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Roy now collects drinking water using a rainwater harvesting plant that makes his life easier.

“I get the facilities and now I can give two more hours to my family… that’s why I benefited,” he added.

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

“We lost both time and household chores. After getting rainwater harvesting plants, we benefited. Now we don’t have to collect water from far away so that we can do more housework,” Boiragi said.

Shymoli revealed that coastal people were suffering from various health problems due to consumption of salt water and also spent money on water harvesting.

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


With the support of the project, around 13,300 households under 39 union parishes in Khunla and Satkhira were installed with rainwater harvesting equipment. One put apa (water nurse) has been placed in each trade union from the beneficiaries.

Roy, now introduced as a put apasaid the GCA project conducted a survey of households in need of aquatic plants and selected a put apa to two wards.

“As a pani apa, I have been given various tools. I visit each household twice a month. I clean their water tanks (rainwater plants) and repair if necessary,” he added.

Roy said he provides services to 80 households that have rainwater harvesting plants, and if they have problems with their water tanks, he goes to their houses to repair the plants.

“I go to 67 households with water stations once or twice a month to provide maintenance services. If they call me on mobile, I go to their houses too,” said another​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​a-V put apa Shaheber from Abad village.

She said one household gives her Taka 20 a month for care services, while she receives Taka 1,340 (US$15) from 67 households, which helps her cover family expenses.

Ahoke Kumar Adhikary, regional project manager for the Gender Responsive Climate Adaptation Project, said it will support the installation of rainwater harvesting devices in 13,300 households. Each plant stores 2,000 liters of rainwater in each tank for the dry season.

Water plants need maintenance, which is why the project has worked put apas for each parish (ward or council) of the union. They work with care at the community level.

“They provide some services and we call them put apa. Jobs put apa is to go to every household and provide services,” Adhikary said.

He said, put apa get Taka 20 per month from each household for providing their services and if there is a need to change the faucets or filters in the water stations, they will be replaced.

The put apa a fee for changing water station equipment, he added.


Bangladesh’s coastal zone is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change as it is heavily affected by cyclones, floods and storms every year that destroy its fresh water sources. The freshwater aquifer is also affected by salinity due to sea level rise.

Ullašini Roy said fresh water was not available in the coastal region and drinking water was scarce.

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

Ahmmed Zulfiqar Rahaman, a hydrologist and climate change expert at the Dhaka-based Center for Environmental and Geographical Information Services (CEGIS), said that if sea levels rise by 50 centimeters by 2050, surface salinity will reach the Gopalganj and Jhalokat regions, 50 km inland from the coastal zone, where there is an accelerating drinking water crisis.


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

It is even blamed for early marriage because the salinity gradually changes the skin color of the girls from light to gray.

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

Hypertension and high blood pressure are common among coastal people. The study also found that people feel psychological stress caused by the constant collection of fresh water.

Shymoli said when some families run out of stored drinking water; family members worry because it is not easy to collect in the coastal area.


According to Rahaman, river water in Bangladesh is rapidly decreasing during the dry season, but a solution must be found for coastal areas.

The hydrologist suggested a possible solution to build more freshwater reservoirs in the coastal area through proper management of ponds at the community level.

According to Rahaman, low-cost rainwater harvesting technology should be transferred to the community level so that coastal people can store rainwater during the monsoon and use it during the dry season.

He added that the government should provide subsidies to desalination plants as desalination of salt water is expensive.

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