Achieving total water and sanitation in two tea gardens in Bangladesh

WaterAid Bangladesh is the first organisation to tackle water and sanitation provision for the marginalised people of Bangladesh’s tea gardens since the country became independent.

WASH Matters

As a part of its equity and inclusion programme, WaterAid Bangladesh began the tea garden project in Sylhet district in late 2010. It was the first organisation to implement a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project in any of the tea gardens of Bangladesh since the country’s independence in 1971.

The power structures within these tea gardens are complex, and tea garden owners are rich and politically influential. WASH coverage is very low in these areas, with workers defecating in the open and drinking unsafe water from streams. WaterAid Bangladesh decided to prioritise appropriate WASH facilities for tea pickers in these areas, given their poverty, marginalisation and social exclusion.

A tea picker at work, Burjan tea garden, Sylhet, Bangladesh
Photographer credit: WaterAid/ Guilhem Alandry

Even the preliminary elements of implementing a project in the tea garden area proved extremely complicated and time consuming. WaterAid, along with our partner organisation IDEA, faced diverse challenges from the local elites, tea estate owners, and tea garden managers. Raising awareness among the tea pickers of their human rights to water and sanitation was also difficult.

To overcome institutional and attitudinal barriers, regular communication and persuasion at local, regional and national level were helpful over time. Although initial discussions highlighted the basic human rights of workers to safe water and sanitation, the potential benefits to the tea pickers’ health and productivity proved to be more persuasive to estate managers and owners.

Another factor that contributed to the success of the engagement with key stakeholders was the fact that WaterAid promised to deliver these services with minimal interruption to work and cost to owners. A combination of community-led hygiene promotion and innovative technologies, like the Infiltration Gallery System (IFG), helped to build the confidence of everyone in the tea gardens.

The formation of cultural groups, prioritisation of school WASH, engaging the local government and sharing ownership with the tea estate owners slowly but effectively helped WaterAid Bangladesh to achieve 100% WASH coverage in y Borjan and Charagang tea gardens.

Out of more than 165 tea gardens (consisting around 400,000 tea pickers) in Bangladesh, these are now the only gardens to have full WASH coverage. WaterAid and IDEA are expecting that two more tea gardens will have 100% WASH coverage by March 2014.

The success in these two tea gardens means that others can see the potential of full water and sanitation coverage. It has inspired other organisations to support tea pickers with basic human rights.

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