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Bamboo treadle pump left, centre Dr Fakhrul Islam with the arsenic filter, irrigation system right

Water supply research centre, Bangladesh

On the outskirts of Dhaka BBC World Service visited a water research centre run by International Development Enterprises, (IDE).

The researchers here are working on a variety of solutions to rural water problems.

Ironically Bangladesh has plenty of water - but the surface water is contaminated with harmful bacteria, and the sub-soil water often has arsenic.

Arsenic filter

One of these researchers, Dr Fakhrul Islam, has invented an arsenic filter. The filter consists of a 30-litre container filled with filter media: ferrous sulphate solution bonded to crushed brick particles. Brick is porous, and by getting the right size brick particles, one hundred percent filtration is achievable.

This incredibly simple system is cheap and easy to use. Early trials are looking very good, but money to continue development is not forthcoming. This could be bad news for the millions of people in Bangladesh.

Surface water contamination with harmful bacteria is a big problem as well. Dr Islam might have a simple solution. All over Bangladesh a simple wood burning fire is used for cooking and boiling contaminated water. This is a big waste of time and resources.

IDE has come up with a remarkable variation on the rural oven. It works in exactly the same way as the conventional oven but with one vital difference.

Sterilising water

Within the wall of the structure is a coil of aluminium tubing. Water is fed through the tube and as it passes round the wall of the fire it is boiled and sterilised. This system is in early trials but the signs are looking good.

These and other systems like it could save hundreds of thousands of wasted hours, valuable time and lives.

Rain water harvesting

Rainwater is harvested by collecting and storing rain water from a roof into a large container. This container is cheap and easy to install. However the amount of water collected is restricted by the weather.

For a village to get enough clean water every home would need to have its own collection system. This means that initial installation charges are high. But when this system is in place the water is free.

Bamboo pumps

IDE have also developed a variety of treadle or foot pumps and hand pumps. These are simple cheap systems. One person can pump out enough water to irrigate an average sized smallholding, or supply extra water quickly and efficiently for home use.

This Bamboo pump has created a quiet revolution. It produces one litre per second and uses very little energy to operate. It is already providing thousand of farms with water.

The IDE have already sold 1.5 million of these pumps and they are very popular. Their philosophy is that any new water supply system must be sustainable in the market place. These systems must be affordable and practical or they will for ever be supported by outside aid.

Irrigation systems

Once the water has been brought to the surface, it is important not to waste a drop. IDE has developed irrigation systems which feed an individual plant with one drip at a time.

Water is placed in a large pillow-like bag above the ground. Gravity takes over and through small valves water can be regulated and fed to the plant. This saves large amounts of water from evaporation or unnecessary absorption by the ground.

Despite the many solutions that IDE and numerous other groups in Bangladesh have devised, Dr Islam is not optimistic.

He fears that time is running out. The lives of millions could be affected if the government does not act fast. "There is simply not enough money for further research, the money is there but it is not going to the right places."

Related website:
International Development Enterprises
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Related audio:
A description of: the bamboo treadle pump, rainwater harvesting, the water sterilising oven and the arsenic filter.
Source: Solutions, programme 2, Bangladesh, (April 2003)

Listen to the radio series:
Solutions parts 1-4

BBC World Service visited the International Development Enterprise Research Centre, in February 2003
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