The government will now spend more on improving the lives of low-income people as part of its focus on priority sectors, said Planning Minister MA Mannan on Thursday.
"We are now identifying sectors requiring funds and earmarking allocations for them. One of the priority sectors is the water and sanitation sector," the minister said at a webinar on budgetary allocation for water, sanitation and hygiene based on rationality.
The Development Journalists Forum of Bangladesh (DJFB) and the Development Organisation of the Rural Poor (DORP) have jointly organised the discussion on the occasion of the Asia and the Pacific Finance Ministers' Meeting to be held on 2 December.
The planning minister said, "We are on the way to becoming a developed nation. So, uninterrupted water and electricity supply is a must. We are almost successful in achieving the feat. But more needs to be done yet. On many occasions, issues arise regarding setting targets for spending and there is some pressure too."
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) has recently approved a project involving Tk800 crore to supply drinking water to haor areas. Projects for sanitation are also in the offing, he added.
Villages will get town-like facilities as announced by the prime minister, but it is not possible to do that overnight. The government has been going ahead with various plans to materialise the commitment, the minister mentioned.
"It is our constitutional and moral responsibility to reach all civic amenities in towns to villages," Mannan also said.
Dr Shamsul Alam, a member of the General Economics Division of the Planning Commission, presented a keynote paper at the event.
He said if the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme is not implemented, the country will fall short of its target in achieving many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, it is necessary to increase the budgetary allocation for WASH several times.
"In fact, 70 crore people in the world still defecate under the open sky. Even in our country, many people still defecate outdoors. We have many water sources in the country. But the thing is whether water is drinkable or not," he added.
"The Covid-19 pandemic made inroads in the country and taught us how important it is to wash hands."
Specific measures regarding water, sanitation and hygiene have been outlined in the Eighth Five-Year Plan. For example, rainwater harvesting will ensure arsenic-free water, create reservoirs in rivers and increase water quality. Arrangements will also be made to supply water through pipes to villages. Besides, high-quality toilets will be set up, Dr Shamsul Alam said.
There have also been talks of setting up an authority to fix water prices. However, to improve the overall Wash sector, there must be coordination between government and non-government organisations, he concluded.
Jobayer Hasan, South Asia representative of Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) and DORP's director of research, FHM Humayun Kabir, president of DJFB, Imdadul Haque Chowdhury, joint secretary to Local Government Division, Mohammad Monirul Alam, Unicef's WASH specialist, Abdus Salam Mia, grounds manager of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Alamgir, Hossain, deputy director of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and Ranjan Ghosh of Water Aid Bangladesh were also present at the discussion.