Bangladesh has one of the highest population densities in the world, with 109.3 million people, or 75 percent of the population, living in rural areas. While improved water supply coverage in rural Bangladesh is now above 97 percent, water quality still poses a significant challenge. Thirteen percent of the country’s water sources have arsenic levels above the threshold that the government defines as dangerous. In private piped-water taps sampled across the country, 80 percent were found to be contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Water salinity, iron, and other bacterial pathogens pose additional threats.
The quality of sanitation coverage is another area of concern. Bangladesh has almost completely eradicated the practice of open defecation, but a Bank study revealed that only 37 percent of the country’s latrines are hygienic, while 35 percent are unclean. Recognizing these serious quality challenges, the Government of Bangladesh developed a National Sanitation Strategy in 2005 to promote the concept of a hygienic latrine with the intention that people gradually move towards this technology.
Since 1998, the World Bank has supported the government of Bangladesh to improve safe water availability. Built on the experience of two earlier projects, the Bangladesh Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (BRWSSP) launched in 2012, applied a participatory approach to ensure community input and a robust monitoring process to promote transparency.
The project focused on increasing the provision of safe water and hygienic sanitation in the rural areas of Bangladesh, particularly where shallow aquifers were highly contaminated by arsenic and other pollutants. Targeting 383 Unions in 33 districts and implemented at the union level of the government’s local administrative tier, the project applied a series of innovative service delivery models to improve access to safe water and hygienic latrines. The project adopted a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) approach for the construction of the piped water supply schemes whereby Private Sponsors for all schemes were identified through a competitive process. This PPP model built upon Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) modality and in which private sponsors provided equity sharing, incentivized the private operators to maximize household connections to increase revenue and profit.
Capacity constraints within the government were addressed through new innovative water supply and sanitation (WSS) service delivery approaches viz. private sector partnership modalities that challenged traditional roles and responsibilities. Private sector sponsors and sanitary entrepreneurs were leveraged to compensate for gaps in government capacity. Over time, through capacity building and technical assistance, government institutions’ capacity was strengthened to govern the provision of water and sanitation services in respective rural areas.