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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2552

Bangladesh’s success in various fields surprising

Bangladesh’s success in various fields surprising

Dhaka, 14 May, ( World Bank Country Director Christine Wallich has praised Bangladesh's achievements in various fields and said the country like many developing nations, despite problems, has also scored surprising successes even in the areas of environment, particularly water management and sanitation.

She said more than 95 percent of Bangladesh's population has access to safe drinking water free from bacteria, exceeding India, its far richer neighbor. "That's a real achievement," she told the three-day 4th meeting of World Water Forum of Journalists and 17th Congress of Asia Pacific Forum of Environmental Journalists.

The meeting, titled "Water, Sanitation and Climate Change- Achieving MDGs: Role of the Media", was largely attended by senior journalists as well as experts of the region.

Besides, Wallich said, almost half of the population has access to improved sanitation, well above the average for South Asia. "Look at the progress that has been made in mitigating the devastating effects of natural disasters. Thousands of lives have been saved by constructing cyclone shelters and through government campaigns to educate households on food and water safety precautions during floods," she pointed out.

The WB country director said Bangladesh has other surprises for the international visitors. "The country has already achieved the Millennium Development Goal in eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary school enrollment and has now targeted to achieve the child mortality goal," she said.

She, however, outlined some of the environmental challenges Bangladesh has been facing and assured that the World Bank would help the government tackle them. "It's a massive task but one in which the Bank is committed to play its part," she added.

"As international journalists, you are probably well aware that Bangladesh doesn't always get the best press. This is a country often characterized by devastating floods, poor governance and poverty," Christine told the journalists reporting on water and environment issues. Next week the Bank will launch its Country Assistance Strategy for Bangladesh that focuses on how we can achieve goals such as improved water supply and sanitation, while promoting sustainable development, she said.

The Bank's Country Assistance Strategy has two pillars, improving the investment climate and empowering the poor, the WB Country Director said and added underlying these is a core focus on good governance.

This means all World Bank interventions will be as much about improving governance as they will be about improving sector performance, she said.

Christine reminded of the scale of environmental and development challenges faced with the population density approaching 1,000 people per square kilometer, the highest in the world, putting an extremely high pressure on the natural resources of Bangladesh.

Two-thirds of the land area is cropped, the highest proportion in South Asia, and the share under forest cover is the second lowest in the region, she said. Pressure on wetlands and aquatic life is a particular concern in Bangladesh, as booming urban and industrial growth leads to land reclamation, not all of it well- advised or legally sanctioned, she added.

Pollution puts increasing pressure on fish stocks in a country where fish continues to provide more than half of the animal protein to the national diet, the WB country director pointed out.

Christine quoted last December's World Bank report, which estimated that the clean water needed in Bangladesh's expanding urban centers would jump from 10,000 million liters a day to over 35,000 million liters in future.

"As we see daily in Dhaka, providing safe water and a functioning sewerage system is already a major challenge. The city's sewerage system serves only 27 percent of the population," she said adding, the WB estimates that up to $8 billion dollars will be needed to correct the country's water supply and sewerage system over the next 20 years.

She said the journalists should play their due role in reporting on what is happening, even if the results are unpalatable to those in power. She hailed the Bangladeshi journalists who already took up this challenge, the photographers who took the pictures of land-grabbers filling in the city's waterways and also the journalists who confronted the wrongdoers.

"Only by bringing publicity to such issues, can momentum for change grow? Let's go back to the example of the sewerage system. Sewerage systems are in disrepair and disfunctioning in many worlds’ cities - it's not just Bangladesh where the system is in need of investment," Wallich said.

"It is said that this is because 'there aren't any votes to be gained by spending taxpayer money, underground,' that is where it is not visible. It's up to the media to keep people informed of the real cost of not tackling the problem; To tell them about what is happening to the Buriganga and Lakhya Rivers around Dhaka that absorb 80 per cent of the city's effluents; Of the health risks of poor sanitation," she spelled out.

The WB country director also cited the example of air quality in Dhaka that has recently worsened again, offsetting some of the gains from the successful banning of two- stroke engines from the city. "Does this mean the ban on two- strokes was a failure? Not at all. Rather, Dhaka has grown, creating new problems that need to be tackled. It means further measures are needed. Responsible journalism would give credit, as well as criticism," she argued.

Christine referred to the Country Assistance Strategy which will frame the World Bank's program for Bangladesh over the coming years and said its focus on governance is something which should interest the media.

“Increasing transparency and accountability and reducing opportunities for corruption helps ensure that money allocated for improving the living conditions of the poor actually reaches its target. One cause of Dhaka's water supply problems today is a shortage of electric power to drive the pumps, a shortage which can be directly traced to corruption and mis-governance in the power sector," she added.

Tackling these governance issues and enhancing accountability would bring direct benefits to the city's poor residents and water users, she said adding that media has an important role to play in explaining these cause-and-effect relationships, analyzing and highlighting root causes of a problem, and giving voice to realistic, viable solutions.

"Governance is also about the enforcement of sensible regulations," the WB country director said reminding media's role in this respect. Powerful economic interests may be able to persuade enforcement agencies to ignore so alled 'victimless crimes' such as brick factories with chimneys below regulation height, pumping their fumes into residential areas, with everyone, in fact, and a victim. Journalists can shame the law enforcers into action, she pointed out.

Christine said the WB Country Assistance Strategy is also about partnerships, about the World Bank working with the Government, the media, civil society and other development partners to achieve development results.

World Bank financing of the Arsenic Mitigation Project is a good example of this, where Government, NGOs and communities have been working together to build awareness of the problem, screen water sources and provide demand-led solutions, she added.

- INS+Asian Tribune -

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