Sanitation in Bangladesh: Revolution, Evolution, and New Challenges

Sanitation in Bangladesh: Revolution, Evolution, and New Challenges, 2016. CLTS Knowledge Hub Learning Paper.

Author: Dr Suzanne Hanchett.

Our 2015 discussions with people at all levels of Bangladesh society reveal both pride in sanitation achievements and concern about meeting future challenges. A combination of approaches – subsidies, non-subsidies, micro-credit, sanitation market improvements, programming at various scales, motivating of individuals and groups – has resulted in a majority of households’ using latrines rather than defecating openly.

Policy documents have created frameworks to guide activities in diverse areas. Issues such as quality, faecal sludge removal, and appropriate subsidies for very poor households remain, however. Hard-to-reach geographical areas lag behind the rest of the country. As Professor Mujibur Rahman’s 2009 overview pointed out, failing to address these challenges will threaten the sustainability of achievements.

Unique characteristics of the Bangladesh sanitation situation include the focus on its local government institution (the union), its long history of NGO-sponsored community mobilisation, and its high population density. Donor involvement has been a regular feature of the sanitation scene for more than three decades. It is a relatively small country, the size of only one of India’s states. All of these special conditions and characteristics have supported its achievements to date.

The transitions and challenges occurring in 2015 are daunting, to be sure; but the country has faced larger ones in the past. Moving away from open defecation was the biggest one. This achievement was primarily psychological, cultural, and political. Introducing and maintaining sewer systems, however, will involve substantial expense. Upgrading household latrines in rural areas also costs money. Donors’ interests will shift away from sanitation to urgent matters such as climate change; so new revenue sources will be needed.

 

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