Wasa water causing havoc: Public health calamity staring in the face

TWO facts stick out about the outbreak of diarrhoea in the metropolis. First is the virulence with which it is occurring: more than 700 patients land up at the ICDDR,B on daily basis. Its second feature is the early onslaught, since late February, instead of early April, it is known to occur.

That’s, however, is not the only variation or marker of unusualness about the phenomenon. The precipitation of diarrhoea this time around is not ascribable to the normal factors linked to the overall deterioration of environment in hot and humid summer, but primarily to one reason which is the piped water of Wasa. This has gotten dangerously contaminated through pipeline leakage, thanks to poor maintenance by Wasa. It is to be noted that most of the diarrhoea patients come from areas of the city exposed to most contaminated supply of Wasa waters.

In other words, Wasa which is supposed to provide pure drinking water to the citizens for the sustenance of their lives, is actually doing the opposite, pushing them into the mire of lethal health hazards. This is an infliction of double-jeopardy on the citizens, for the Wasa is not only failing to meet a basic need of the denizens, that too at a monetary cost to them, it is also subjecting them to water-borne diseases. This is Wasa’s disservice in the name of service.

What is, however, quintessentially ominous is the admission of some Wasa sources that it has become impossible for its treatment plants to purify the stinky pitch-black water of Shitalakkhya and Buriganga. This then takes us to the broader issue of tanneries, chemical processing units, textile, plastic and dying factories and steel rerolling, fertiliser and paper mills polluting the river waters by dumping effluents. Successive governments’ failure to enforce environment standards on industry owners is a glaring shortcoming that the present AL government must endeavour to avert.

To be sure, a holistic approach is needed to ensure adequate supply of potable water to the citizens, such as would include capacity-building in Wasa, private sector involvement in water supply, given that Wasa only caters to part of the water demand, and above all, make sure that the sources of surface water are not themselves polluted through sewer and effluent dumps.

Source: Editorial, The Daily Star, 28 March 2009


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