Partha Shankar Saha |Prothom Alo| Update: 01:57, Jul 10, 2015 | Print Edition

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in a recent survey revealed that almost 65.4% of the people in the country drink unsafe water. The water contains chemicals like arsenic and bacteria like E Coli. Sylhet division has the least amount of safe water.

Water and public health experts expressed their concern over the the large number of people drinking unsafe water. They said that this information had questioned the previous government report that said 97% of the people has access to safe drinking water. They said the government should drop such misconceptions and take measures to ensure safe drinking water.

BBS published the Multiple Indicator Clustered Survey (MICS) report on 5 July. UNICEF provided financial and technical support to BBS for the survey. A total of 2,37,396 people of 52,895 families were interviewed in the survey.

Abdul Malek, secretary of the local government division, in-charge of water and sanitation, said, “I am not saying the information is wrong, but it has no bearing with reality and I do not accept it.”

According to the MICS report, harmful E Coli bacteria has been found in the source of water of 41% of the families.

The water which has more than one colony forming unit (CFU) of E Coli in per 100 millilitres of water is considered unsafe water.

Prof Md Ruhul Amin Mia, chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) said, “E Coli is one of the bacterias found in water. We cannot say that the presence of the E Coli is the only reason behind water-borne diseases like diarrhoea. However, in the presence of E Coli, more than one CFU can cause abdominal pain.”

According to the report, the 65.5% of the water used in households has E Coli contamination. Prof Ruhul Amin Mia said, faulty water supply lines and lack of cleanliness are the main causes of E Coli contamination in water.

Though the presence of arsenic is greater in rural areas, the E Coli infection is higher in urban places. As many as 55% sources of water in urban areas and 38.2% in rural areas are infected by E Coli.

Comparing the divisions, Sylhet takes the top place with 61.9% water contaminated by E Coli.

As many as 21.4% drinking water in Sylhet and 20.7% in Dhaka are E Coli contaminated, according to the report.

The faulty management of water supply is behind the E Coli contamination in Dhaka, experts say.

An International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) report in 2014 found E Coli in 63% water supplied by Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

The government claimed that it has achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) indicator of ensuring drinking water for 85% people of the country.

However, a report ‘Progress in Sanitation and Drinking Water: MDG Evaluation 2015’ published on 30 June by UNICEF and World Health Organization says a total 13% people still use unsafe sources of water. Arsenic contaminated water is termed unsafe water here.

International organisation WaterAid Bangladesh representative Khairul Islam said, “Bangladesh has made great progress in the sectors of sanitation and safe drinking water. But, the achievement statistics are being shown artificially, overlooking the shortcomings.”

“We should be committed to statistical honesty. It is not good to present the data just to please the high ups,” Khairul Islam told Prothom Alo on Thursday.

It is a matter of worry that most of the people in Bangladesh do not get safe water, he added.

The NGO Forum’s executive director SMA Rashid said, “The government has to move away from its stand regarding the safe water statistics because 97% people get safe water and 65.4% don’t get it – both are government information. Therefore, the government has to take realistic steps over the issue.”