Bhashantek is a slum situated in Dacca, capital of Bangladesh. Like many slums, the water supply is not assured because this zone is not officially recognized.
Before the action of SJP and Water&Life, our partner in this place, people were used to get water by common water pumps built previously by NGO or by the government. This water came from illegal connections on the city’s water network. Illegal connections means that there are not necessarily well built and maintained and so water can often be of poor quality and sold at very high price.
SJP, the local social enterprise, built a new water network with individual meters with a weekly bill. So, dwellers have water at home and pay according to their water consumption.
Like in other countries, the method was to interview people who benefit of the service and people who do not. Bhashantek was the ideal place to do this. In fact, in June 2016 (field period for us), only the first phase of the project was implemented and one half of the slum benefited from the new water network. So we naturally had our control population with the second half of the area. Interviewed households were chosen randomly but respecting a geographic repartition.
In total 166 households were surveyed, 85 in the connected area, 81 in the not connected area.
You can see below a Bhashantek average dweller’s portrait:
|Number in the household||4|
|Description of the house||Tin shed wall with an area of 30m²|
|Owner or renter of the house||Owner|
|Number of people who work per household||1.68|
|Income of the households||15 010 Taka (180€) / Month|
|Kind of job||Garment, craftsman, transport or commerce|
Our initial hypothesis was that the two populations were similar. This question was solved by an economic and social survey showing that the two populations are comparable. Nevertheless, the not connected area seems to be richer than the connected part according to our calculous about the wages per households.
A change in habits concerning water
A clear change in the habits (figure below) was observed. All people connected to SJP use it for drinking purpose. Moreover, the results show that they use it for all the other purpose: cooking, washing the clothes and washing themselves.
It doesn’t fit with some declarations of people who say that they use for all purpose whereas their measured consumption is less than 20 L/pers/day. We can see the limit of a survey based on declarations.
People consume more, People pay less per liter of Water
The average consumption of water has increased for connected people: from 27.8 L/person/day for not connected people to 53.2 L/person/day and so passed over the dignity threshold fixed by the WHO (World Health Organization): 45 L/pers/day.
• This rise has a price: Connected people pay more in total. An household connected pays 181 Tk ( 2,1 €) /month in average.
• An household not connected pays 121 Tk (1,5€)/month in average.
It can explain that some people are afraid of consuming more than 20 L/pers/day. For people it is very different to pay a fix price that they can anticipate every month and to pay according your consumption every week. People are not used to such way of doing things and so they feel like they are paying too much.
Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the price of a liter of water is cheaper for connected people than for the other.
Decrease of the health problem linked with water
Drink potable water and you will be healthy: almost all people in the world know that and results in Bhashantek show the same conclusion with a clear decrease of water diseases and health expenditures linked with water for the last 3 months.
• 593 Tk (7,09 €) for households living in the not connected part of the slum
• 268 Tk (3.21 €) for SJP customers. Paying more money for your water makes you save money!
Things that don’t have a price
During the survey, to balance the quantitative results and to make them more consistent, group discussions with women were organized. Those group discussions revealed some very interesting points.
The first answer mentioned at the question “ What does SJP bring you ? “ is peace of mind. In fact, to know that they will always have water for their children and their husband, it is a real relief for women.
During those group discussions, the other point which always recurred was intimacy improvement. To understand well these women, we have to put it in the context of a Muslim country. Before SJP’s action, women were used to wash themselves near the hand pump in Sari, trying to hide their body. With SJP, women can wash themselves at home, in a closed space, far from men look, which is clearly an improvement for them and for their health. The nurse in charge of Bhashantek health centre confirmed this last affirmation, telling us that diseases related with personal hygiene are a real plague in the slum, and clearly decreased since the beginning of SJP work.
[Testimony of woman about intimacy]
Those two points make us see concretely a difficulty that we got when we were preparing the project: that it is not always possible to put a price on everything which was the first goal of our expedition.
Water can’t do everything
As we observed in other countries, results are nuanced by other factors.
Huge health improvements were clearly observed but it concerns water diseases. If we consider the diseases not linked with water, we see that results are quite similar in both sides. Situation on the connected side even seems a little bit worth. There are numerous explanations but one could be that those common diseases found in Bhashantek (cold, flue, asthma, fever, bronchitis..etc) are more indicator of a bad life condition in Dhaka in general than a health indicator (The climate is extreme (from very hot to cold), and humid and the air very polluted). It could also be linked with the lack of sanitation. But today a latrine pilot project has been launched by Water and Life Bangladesh, trying to find a sustainable answer to this issue. We invite your to read one article about this project https://www.engineeringforchange.org/12085-2/
We observe that globally wealth has an influence on health. We can notice that to have access to an individual drinking water source (SJP service) make a real difference for very poor people (100% of sick households to 50%) and for not poor people (70% to 40% of sick households). Whereas the difference of sick households is less important for poor people (76.6% to 62.5%).
We can interpret that, saying that:
• For people who are very poor, it makes a real difference, because they have very bad life conditions and an individual tap is a real revolution in their life.
• For people who are not poor, it contributes to a virtuous circle, which can bring a real improvement combining wealth and access to water.
• For people who are in the average, it represents an improvement but less important than for the others.
SJP’s action was a revolution for the life of Bhashantek dwellers: they passed from a public hand pump to a private tap, from dirty water to clean water that they can drink, they can wash inside, they don’t have to fight with their neighbours to queue to have water and they don’t have to be worried about water supply any more, it is a different life.
Connected people pay less for one liter of water even if the way of invoicing it is not the same: invoicing based on consumption for SJP, invoicing at flat rate for people using old ways of water supply.
Some changes could be clearly measured: water consumption, change in habits, number of water diseases, etc and others which may be the most important can’t: like intimacy or peace of mind.
Compared to other countries, private connections are clearly the most impressive way of improving people’s life, in water sector, even it is not possible to set up everywhere.