Putting Dhaka’s Poor on the Map

Bangladesh is using innovative approaches to guide its efforts in providing water supply and sanitation services for its people. Taking service provision to a higher level, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) has recently completed a spatial analysis that utilizes geographic information system (GIS, more commonly referred to as geospatial information system) technology to overlay the location of slum areas with existing water and sanitation infrastructure in Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka. Such an overlaying of slum areas with system maps provides a powerful and much-needed tool for identifying opportunities to improve service delivery to the nearly 3.5 million urban poor in Dhaka.

The analysis is focused on developing a typology of slum areas to underscore the reality that not all slum areas are alike, and each may present different sets of opportunities and constraints for service delivery. A recent study indicates that of the 4,900 slum areas in Dhaka, over 80 percent are estimated to be on private lands and 60 percent are relatively small pockets of less than 40 households (2005 Slum Census). “While part of the initial challenge was to bring together these different geo-referenced data sets, the trick now will be to help introduce a management system to monitor and update this information as well as share it with other relevant agencies in order to sustain improved services in slum areas,” says Glenn Pearce Oroz, of Water and Sanitation Program-South Asia (WSP-SA).

 WSP-SA provided technical support to the DWASA in undertaking the spatial analysis exercise. DWASA is currently preparing two water supply and sanitation projects for financing by international financial institutions, and will be receiving funding from two other bilateral donors. Future decisions on capital infrastructure investment, especially in proximity to slum areas, will also be informed by the spatial analysis generated by DWASA. Given that nearly 37 percent of the city’s population inhabits slum areas, WSP-SA, in conjunction with a World Bank project under preparation, is also currently providing analytical support to the DWASA to develop approaches to provide such slum areas with access to basic services.

Used effectively, such an overlaying may also address some critical issues of access as against availability, mentioned in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Annual Human Development Report, 2006, focusing on 'Beyond scarcity: power, poverty and the global water crisis;’ The experts suggest that the question on water is not its availability but access. “Today some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. These deficits are rooted in institutions and political choices and not in availability,” said one of the author’s of the report.

Harnessing modern digital technology to as part of efforts to address a key challenge area: water supply, especially to the vast mass of urban poor is not the only area where Bangladesh has shown innovation. The UNDP report also praised Bangladesh for its innovative approach on sanitation which has been extremely successful in rural areas. It highlighted how Bangladesh’s low-cost toilet revolution and awareness programs about hygiene have made the country a role model in the field of sanitation. Innovative cash incentives have been combined with awareness generation to target community wide action, toilet use as against open defecation and hygiene behavior change.  

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Glenn Pearce Oroz
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