Improving water security for the poor

Universal drinking water security

The challenge

Bangladesh has seen positive economic transformation and declining rates of poverty in recent years. Yet the government and municipalities still struggle to regulate and deliver safe, reliable and affordable access to drinking water. Communities face ongoing water insecurity and environmental risks. There are particular challenges in rural areas, where the majority of the population live and are often disconnected from national agencies and programmes.

The Sustainable Development Goals provide the global mandate to achieve universal access to drinking water, and the Government of Bangladesh is actively advocating the SDG6 in the United Nations High Level Panel on Water. New models and approaches are required to achieve universal and safe drinking water security in Bangladesh.

The observatory

This observatory provides a unique opportunity to study water security risks based on an extensive longitudinal dataset. The Matlab Bazaar health and demographic surveillance system (HDSS) represents a population of 226,000 people living within a defined rural area near the Meghna River, with health and demographic data spanning multiple decades.

We will model new risk metrics by fusing existing streams of health data with climate, hydrology, welfare, economic and drinking water infrastructure data. New monitoring metrics will help design institutional responses and support the Government of Bangladesh’s goal of universal and safe drinking water security.

The study will explore the impacts of water-related hazards on poverty outcomes in Matlab Bazaar and evaluate alternative sequences and types of water security interventions, particularly river embankment for flood protection.

Research questions

  1. Can multi-decadal health and demographic data improve risk-prediction models for water security?
  2. How can we deliver effective and replicable institutions to ensure universal drinking water security?
  3. What information systems are necessary and effective to ensure policy goals are met and maintained to leave no one behind?

News and blog

How does the media construct public risk narratives and shape responses to water insecurity? June 2019
Challenges and opportunities to achieve ‘safely managed’ drinking water in rural Bangladesh, August 2017
Water on all sides: reflections on Bangladesh, July 2015


Fischer, A., Hope, R., Manandhar, A., Hoque, S., Foster, T., Hakim, A., Islam, M. S., Bradley, D. (2020). Risky responsibilities for rural drinking water institutions: The case of unregulated self-supply in Bangladesh. Global Environmental Change 65 (102152).

Fischer, A. (2019). Constraining Risk Narratives: A Multidecadal media analysis of drinking water insecurity in Bangladesh. Annals of the American Association of Geographers.

REACH (2018) Sustaining safely managed drinking water services in rural schools in Chandpur District, Bangladesh. REACH Policy Brief.

REACH (2017) Achieving and sustaining safely managed drinking water in Bangladesh. REACH Policy Brief, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

REACH (2015) Country Diagnostic Report, Bangladesh. REACH Working Paper 1, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Research team

Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology: Professor Mashfiqus Salehin

International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b): Dr Mohammad Sirajul Islam

UNICEF: Dara Johnston, Mohammed Monirul Alam

University of Dhaka: Dr Mohammed Abu Eusuf, Professor Mahbuba Nasreen

University of Oxford: Dr David Clifton, Alex Fischer, Dr Rob Hope, Dr Sonia Ferdous Hoque, Dr Achut Manandhar

‘Water security has a defining role to play in Bangladesh’s goal to achieve middle-income status and end extreme poverty.’

Professor Mashfiqus Salehin, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

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