As recently as 2015, access to sufficient clean water for daily life was lacking in Shamlapur and surrounding villages of Teknaf Upazila (sub-district) in Cox’s Bazar, a southern coastal district in Bangladesh by the Bay of Bengal. Chakma Para was one such village, where the inhabitants of over 200 households survived on jhum cultivation and gathered wood for fuel. The practice of visiting latrines in bare feet was commonplace, as was waterborne diseases.
“Water crisis in our village was so acute that my husband, son, and I bathed once every four-five days during the dry season” shared Sukku Mala, 25. “It was far worse for the larger families. There was no fixed water point other than some earth wells that dried up during the dry season. Finding earthworms or even frogs in the collected water didn’t surprise us anymore” she added!
When cyclone ‘Roanu’ hit the village in May 2016, the WASH situation in the village only got worse. The earth wells – only source of water for the inhabitants – were flooded and got filled with mud from landslides in the area.
Cyclone Roanu damaged the WASH infrastructure – however scant they may have been – of other nearby villages too. Hatkholapara is home to some 1,300 people, including 166 Undocumented Myanmar National (UMN) families. Secured wash rooms were few and far between even before Roanu took its toll. Similarly affected was Purba Nayapara village and its residential Madrasa (religious education institution) that had one single-chamber open-roof latrine. There was no water-sill attached with the pan, a not-so-hygienic latrine used by more than 100 students – both boys and girls – and also the teachers.
In this context, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with its partner organization NGO Forum, reached out to the Parra (neighborhood) Development Committees (PDCs) and the community leaders in these villages. With financial support from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), IOM has been able to respond to the various emergency needs of the population of Shamlapur and Leda makeshift settlements (LMS), improving access to enhanced WASH services for the resident UMN population. This project provided improved water and sanitation services, ensured adequate supply of safe drinking water, worked on solutions for sustainable water collection systems, constructed latrines and washing stations, and distributed hygiene kits for the targeted beneficiaries.
This project benefitted a total of 26,679 individuals, including through allocating 20 litres of water per person per day for drinking, cooking, hygiene, and laundry among 16,000 UMNs in LMS. To achieve this, a total of 225,000 litres of water were pumped, treated, and distributed every day. Ponds were excavated for rain water collection for the LMS population and structural repairs were carried out to existing sanitation facilities in the settlement. In addition, 16 community toilets were constructed in Shamlapur, as was 45 Bathing Cubicles for
over 4,000 women in Shamlapur and LMS.
The difference this project made in the lives of the inhabitants of the project locations is palpable. “In our community, women fetch water for household needs. We even had a stillbirth during water collection, when a pregnant woman fell in a deep earth well we had till last year. We count our blessings now that we have sufficient water that can be collected easily and quickly. Earlier, many families were fetching water over five times a day, going up and down the long hilly paths” confirms Sukku Mala.
Tahera Begum, 28, a resident of Hatkholapara is the most thankful for the protection the secured latrines constructed with CERF funding provides her and her compatriots. “I could not bathe when needed and had to wait for long, sometimes even until the afternoon, because men were walking by the temporary and insecure bathing areas” says Tahera. Sometimes she even had to wait till nightfall for bathing.
Moulana Nurul Alam, teacher of the Purba Nayapara Madrasa, seen first-hand the bad sanitary conditions his pupils were faced with for the longest time. “There was only one latrine for everyone in the whole Madrasa. Many were forced to go at the back of the Madrasa for open defecation”. “The girl students used the nearby household latrines. 20 to 30 percent of the students were regularly absent from classes due to lack of WAH facilities” says another faculty member Hafej Mobibullah.
The CERF project was instrumental in improving access to WASH services for over 26,000 UMNs living in Leda and Shamlapur Makeshift Settlements and thus improve their health and socio-economic wellbeing.
 Jhum cultivation, also known as the slash and burn agriculture, is the process of growing crops by first clearing the land of trees and vegetation and burning them thereafter. The burnt soil contains potash which increases the nutrient content of the soil.