The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has showcased the importance of hygiene guidelines and adequate allocations for this segment, but experts say the proposed budget for FY2021-22 did not allocate enough funds for such initiatives under the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector.
Allocations for hygiene initiatives under the WASH sector had dropped by nearly 50% in the five-year period between 2016 and 2021. In FY2016-17, 9.95% of the WASH budget was allocated to the hygiene and environment segments, but it dropped to 4.66% in FY2020-21.
This allocation now stands at 7% of the WASH budget for FY2021-22, but experts claim that it is not sufficient. Besides, the overall allocation being granted to the WASH sector is remaining mostly underutilised due to the implementing organisations' lack of capacity.
Addressing a press conference organised jointly by WaterAid, Unicef, PPRC, Fansa-BD, FSM Network, Sanitation and Water for All, WASH Alliance and MHM Platform on Sunday, stakeholders added that the sector suffers from lack of good governance and accountability too.
They recommended a special focus on hygiene initiatives and a separate allotment into the hygiene segment similar to other sub-sectors.
WaterAid Bangladesh's Director (Policy and Advisory) Partha Hefaz Shaikh moderated the event, while Power and Participatory Research Centre's (PPRC) Chairman Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman presented an analysis on the topic.
According to the analysis, the proposed budget allocation shows a slight decline in WASH budget allocation with TK119.55 billion in FY21-22, a drop from Tk122.27 billion last year. Following the legacy of previous years, the allocation for hygiene has been overlooked in FY21-22 despite the pandemic's predominance.
The WASH sector covers water, sanitation and hygiene. The government makes allocations in this sector considering a myriad of segments, including sewage management, skill development, raising awareness, and environment.
All allocations made for these sub-sectors and segments are collectively known as the WASH budget. Different city corporations, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), and some divisions under the health ministry spend the lion's share of it.
There is no single WASH sector allocation, as the government calculates this budget considering various sub-sectors under different ministries and divisions.
Pointing out the ever-present discrimination of budget allocation between urban and rural regions, PPRC Chairman Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman said, "The Covid-19 is not only spreading in the cities, but in villages too.
"The government should increase the overall budget for WASH and hygiene, and decrease the discrimination to tackle the onslaught of Covid-19 pandemic."
Dr Rahman recommended the government to introduce a separate sub-sector for hygiene related allocations, adding, "This move can be a signal from the government that they are serious about hygiene issues.
"The government should also put more emphasis on granting greater allocations to coastal regions, while agencies implementing WASH and hygiene related initiatives should focus on building more capacity."
Mentioning that vaccination is not an alternative for WASH, WaterAid Country Director Hasin Jahan said, "WASH does not only focus on washing hands, because the use of masks can also be considered as respiratory hygiene."
"The government should build an infrastructure and set roles for officials concerned with the goal to manage the whole hygiene sector in Bangladesh and also launch an awareness programme especially in markets and other places frequented by the public."
Hasin Jahan then lauded the government's decision to withdraw all VAT on sanitary napkins in the proposed budget. "Proper monitoring is necessary for ensuring that the move is being implemented properly," she added.