National assessment overstates public access to safe drinking water in Bangladesh

However, a multiyear, interdisciplinary study of water use in one of the country’s rural areas conducted by a team of Vanderbilt University researchers has uncovered two major problems not reflected in the national statistics.
“The most surprising and disturbing result of this research was discovering that, in the communities we studied, there was almost no reliable year-round access to safe drinking water, while most residents did not know that their water was unsafe.
Even when almost all water was unhealthily salty and had unsafe levels of arsenic and other chemicals, most people reported that the water tasted good and used it regularly,” summarized co-author Jonathan Gilligan, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt.
In March, the journal’s publisher, Taylor & Francis, featured the article to mark World Water Day and made it free for anyone to read through the end of May.
“To mark this year’s World Water Day, we wanted to draw attention to a range of articles that both mark the latest thinking in the field and have ‘real world’ impact,” explained Daniel Pullin, content coordinator of the Taylor & Francis Group.
Against the backdrop of 663 million people globally living without a safe water supply close to home, this research is especially important in raising awareness during a time of crisis.” The researchers studied several rural communities in southwestern Bangladesh, combining social and natural sciences to understand regional and seasonal variation in water security.
They also measured water quality in both rainy and dry seasons.
They found that during the rainy season most people collected rainwater, which provided them with an ample supply of safe drinking water.
“Fixing a problem begins with knowing that there is a problem, so we are continuing to work with colleagues in Bangladesh to extend this research to many more communities and to raise awareness of these critical issues,” Gilligan said.
Members of the interdisciplinary research team include environmental engineering doctoral student Laura Benneyworth, Professors of Earth and Environmental Sciences John Ayers and Stephen Goodbred, earth and environmental sciences master’s students Gregory George and David Fry, Professor of Sociology Katharine Donato and sociology doctoral student Bhumika Piya from Vanderbilt; Amanda Carrico from the University of Colorado at Boulder; and Rezaul Karim and Farjana Akter from Khulna University in Bangladesh.

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