Barek Tila is a small hilly area located in Tahirpur Upazila of Sunamganj District, near the border of Bangladesh and India. Consisting of a Tila (small hill), it was abundant in spring water once upon a time. Water used to break out through the rocks at various points of it. People used to collect water from those springs and the local Jadukata river for everyday necessity. But as those springs disappeared, the situation changed over time as well.

Perversely in the last couple of years, the river started to dry out and the groundwater level began to decline. The groundwater ratio decayed on such a huge scale resulting availability of only a small well now for drinking water at the very bottom of the Tila. 

Every day during the rush hours of morning and noon, a long line of community members appear with water pitchers in front of the well. As most women and girls in the community bear the responsibility of collecting and carrying the water from the well, they keep moving up and down through the rocky path from their households to the Tila.  

Mostly women and girls from a family have to come at least 5-6 times along a rocky path to collect water from the only well in Barek Tila, Tahirpur-Sunamganj, Bangladesh. February 2021.
Mostly women and girls from a family have to come at least 5-6 times along a rocky path to collect water from the only well in Barek Tila, Tahirpur-Sunamganj, Bangladesh. February 2021.
WaterAid/ Drik/ Tapash Paul

Filling with water, they tiringly carry those heavy pitchers on their head, waist and hands and then climb onto the steep path. They rarely receive any support from male family members. Because after all, it is a ‘household chore’, a woman’s job to do as ascribed by the social taboos revolving around so-called gender roles. Therefore, they travel at least five to six times to the well on daily basis and are compelled to this laborious job.

A close up of a small well showing the decreasing level of groundwater in  Barek Tila, Tahirpur-Sunamganj, Bangladesh. 17 February 2021
A close up of a small well showing the decreasing level of groundwater in Barek Tila, Tahirpur-Sunamganj, Bangladesh. 17 February 2021
WaterAid/ Drik/ Tapash Paul

But such repetitive physical activity has severe negative repercussions on their bodies. A trained local village doctor Dr Hafiz Uddin Ahmed further stresses the effect saying, “These women and girls visit me very often for the treatment of their backaches, muscle pain, and waterborne diseases like Diarrhea and Dysentery. They randomly take pain killers on their own which threatens their body functionality and cause organ failures. Given their poor financial conditions, it is usually not possible for them to afford and continue the prescribed medicine for the desired period of recovery.”   

As per the local pharmacy owner and the assistant of the village doctor, almost 60 per cent of the medicines sold are painkillers and to these women. The situation gets more dangerous in the case of pregnant women and girls, who also ought to commit to such hard labour. It involves a great risk of frequent accidents and many break their bones by slipping down through the bumpy trail.  

Close up of a variety of different painkillers that women take as they suffer from severe pain in their backs, hands and muscles after collecting water 5-6 times a day. Barek Tila, Tahirpur-Sunamganj, Bangladesh. February 2021
Close up of a variety of different painkillers that women take as they suffer from severe pain in their backs, hands and muscles after collecting water 5-6 times a day. Barek Tila, Tahirpur-Sunamganj, Bangladesh. February 2021
WaterAid/ Drik/ Tapash Paul

Such a level of a water crisis in the area furthermore obstructs the social and educational conditions. People from outside Barek Tila does not want to form marriages with residents due to the inadequacy of water. Girls often drop out of the schools, as they have to collect and carry the water for long hours during the days – which create a barrier in their daily attendances and studies. As it appears, the water crisis in the area is mainly a woman’s crisis – which she struggles to survive, every day.

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WaterAid/ Drik/ Suman Paul