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Bangladesh capital faces acute water crisis

Date: 13-Dec-01
Country: BANGLADESH

Soldiers, carrying water in mobile tanks, have been supplying slums areas housing nearly a quarter of Dhaka's population, city officials said yesterday.

In spite of the fact that Dhaka regularly faces devastating floods in the wet season, higher consumption resulting from new housing projects and population growth of over six percent annually was outstripping supplies.

Hundreds of men, women and children queue up at roadside water taps every morning jostling to have a quick bath, wash clothes or to grab a pot-full of drinking water.

"The water scarcity was due to growing consumption by the city's hugely expanding multi-storied housing complexes and pollution of the Buriganga," Azharul Haq, Managing Director of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), told Reuters.

Hundreds of tonnes of waste and harmful chemicals are dumped in the Buriganga river from tanneries and industries lining its banks.

"Those without running water drink from the river or other derelict sources exposing them to health hazards," he added.

Haq said the water crisis was likely to deepen during the summer when ground water levels would drop further.

Water experts blame the decline in ground water levels on pumping from deep tubewells for irrigation and other purposes.

According to Haq, ground water levels had been falling by nearly six feet (two metres) per year.

"WASA has a capacity to supply 1.27 billion litres per day against a demand of 1.6 billion litres for residents in the capital".

Haq said WASA's efforts to increase water supplies faced difficulties because many of the 750 deep tubewells it used in the capital were unusable because of falling ground water levels.

The situation could be helped by the opening of a $131 million surface water treatment plant in the Syedabad area of the city, expected next June.

The Syedabad plant will have capacity to supply 225 million litres of clean water each day, Haq said.

City officials, however, warned it could prove a drop in the ocean given the huge population pressures facing Dhaka.

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