Graham Sustainability Institute

The Sustainability of Safe Drinking Water Supply in Bangladesh

Project Team & Partners

Kim Hayes (Co-PI) – University of Michigan (U-M), Engineering
Lutgarde Raskin (Co-PI) – U-M, Engineering 
Raghav Reddy – U-M, Engineering 
Tara Webster – University of Colorado - Boulder, CIRES
Grace van Velden  – U-M, Public Health
Grace Rodriguez  – U-M, Engineering & Environment and Sustainabiltiy
Arun  Agrawal – U-M, Environment and Sustainability
Asia Arsenic NetworkJessore, Bangladesh

Making safe water sustainable

Ensuring safe drinking water for all is a major challenge in Bangladesh where it's estimated that more than 70 million people are  affected by arsenic-contaminated drinking water sources. There have been significant efforts since the 1980s to install tube wells that draw from deeper uncontaminated aquifers and to employ arsenic removing water treatment systems; however, where safe water supply systems have been installed, challenges associated with maintenance, ownership, and monitoring limit the systems’ long-term sustainability. As a result, much of the country still lacks access to safe drinking water.

To address this challenge, a team from the University of Michigan, Asia Arsenic Network, and University of Colorado is asking: What are the major factors limiting the long-term sustainability of safe water supply systems in Bangladesh, and what intervention options can effectively address them?

The project aims to to develop recommendations to assist local water supply stakeholders, local and national policy makers, Bangladeshi non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international donor agencies in addressing concerns regarding the long-term sustainability of safe water access in Bangladesh.

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Monitoring water quality

A critical component of safe drinking water access is the capacity to determine accurately whether water is potable.

In rural arsenic-affected locations, access to laboratory testing facitiliies can be limited and cost-prohibitive. The government and NGOs often rely on field test kits to monitor drinking water quality. In response to scepticism about the quality of these analyses, the team is evaluating a number of commonly available kits. 

Improving safe water access & water supply system maintenance

Initial findings in two rural communities in Jessore confirmed concerns about the safety of the existing water supply. Based on that data, the team is developing and evaluating strategies at the household and community levels to improve water supply system maintenance and access to safe water.

The team is working with individual households in Phulsara union to assess the water supply infrastructure, understand community members’ behaviors and preferences for water supply, and evaluate the effectiveness of informational outreach efforts in improving awareness, changing behavior, and, in turn, reducing arsenic exposures. In neighboring Goga union, the team is working with user committees that manage community safe drinking water devices to explore different management systems and financial models to improve water supply system sustainability.

Sharing findings

A key component of this work is collaborating with stakeholders to develop the project and share findings. Workshops in Phulsara and Goga unions will focus on changes that local water supply stakeholders can make, and a workshop in Dhaka with national government agencies, NGOs, and funding agencies will focus on developing broader best practices for safe water supply sustainability.

This project received a $300,000 Integrated Assessment Grant in 2015.