Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Water and Sanitation in Dhaka’s Low-Income Settlements, Bangladesh

Sally Cawood

MicroSave, University of Leeds



This is a brief but detail-oriented look at the complexity of water and sanitation arrangements in Dhaka’s low-income settlements. These settlements, which are home to over 1/3 of the city’s 16 million residents, have largely missed out on Bangladesh’s improvements in water and sanitation access over the last decade and a half.

The paper, drawing on Sally Cawood’s PhD research, explains the many types of entities involved in water and sanitation provision in Dhaka’s low-income communities, including musclemen, landlords, NGOs, illegal vendors, and local leaders. Along with the variety of actors, the types of water and sanitation accessed are diverse – resulting in a wide range of costs paid as well. Charts, tables, photos and case studies show the extent of this variety.

There have been attempts to formalize water connections in Dhaka, which residents of informal settlements have been able to apply for since 2007. These formal connections have lower costs, as well as higher revenue for the water utility. Cawood points to the importance of factoring hidden costs into a financial analysis, such as unpaid labour for cleaning toilets and managing NGO projects, which disproportionately affect women.

The paper reaches some interesting, and potentially surprising, findings. One is that residents of the three field sites studied see water, but not sanitation, as a priority. The de-prioritizing of sanitation is exacerbated by financial insecurity, which has “undermined efforts to invest in and improve sanitation in the long-term” (page 9). Tenure insecurity, like financial insecurity, affects the likelihood of improving sanitation infrastructure. After all, low-income Dhaka residents facing the possibility of eviction are unlikely to spend much money and energy on sanitation, rather than rent, food, school fees, or energy.


Available from: http://www.microsave.net/resource/water_and_sanitation_in_dhaka_s_low_in...


Further reading:

Banks, Nicola, Manoj Roy and David Hulme (2011), “Neglecting the urban poor in Bangladesh: research, policy and action in the context of climate change”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 23, No 2, pages 487–502, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247811417794.

Hossain, Shahadat (2012), “The informal practice of appropriation and social control – experience from a bosti in Dhaka”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 25, No 1, pages 209–224, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247812465803.

Nganyanyuka, Kapongola, Javier Martinez and Juma Lungo and Yola Georgiadou (2018), “If citizens protest, do water providers listen? Water woes in a Tanzanian town”, Environment and Urbanization, available OnlineFirst at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247818779700.

Zhen, Nahui, Sarah Rogers and Jon Barnett (2018), “Everyday practices and technologies of household water consumption: evidence from Shanghai”, Environment and Urbanization, available OnlineFirst at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247818779700.


Book note prepared by Christine Ro

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