The experts believe this will assist Bangladesh in fighting Covid-19 and achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals.
Experts and representatives of different non-governmental development organisations have argued in favour of boosting allocations for the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector in the upcoming national budget – to fight the Covid-19 pandemic plus achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) related to health.
"Allocations for sanitation have been rising but hygiene has been overlooked – both need equal attention to fight the Covid-19 pandemic," said Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, chairman of the Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC), in his keynote presentation at a virtual press conference.
PPRC, WaterAid, Unicef, FANSA-BD, WSSCC,B, FSM Network, Sanitation and Water for All, and WASH Alliance jointly arranged the event.
Dr Zillur said geographical inequality of WASH allocations remains significant, where cities and towns have received the highest percentage of the allocated funding compared to: rural, char, hilly, and coastal areas in previous years.
"The under-developed areas' needs are higher than in urban regions and the upcoming budget must consider the acute needs of the marginalised pockets," he said. He recommended inequality of WASH allocations among different income groups of people in the same city be eliminated.
Economist Zillur Rahman, who is also a former caretaker government adviser, said the next budget must prioritise hygiene as a critical area in light of the Covid-19 threat and the complexities of attaining SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation.
"The allocation for the health sector is lower than required and implementation performance is less than the allocation," he said. He urged the government to fight Covid-19 with support of NGOs, civil societies and some other parties.
"The quality of drinking water is not improving despite a huge allocation for it," he stated in the keynote, and identified the issue as a major challenge for public health.
The PPRC chairman also said there are extreme disparities in access and affordability to clean water between highly subsidised urban customers and marginalised populations in the coast, slums, and other hard-to-reach areas. He recommended solutions such as progressive tariffs be explored.
Hasin Jahan, country director at the WaterAid Bangladesh, said, despite a continuous rising trend of allocations for the WASH sector for more than a decade, there are a lot of challenges in the sector related to WASH, and the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted this.
"Investment in nationwide hygiene promotion and behavioural change campaigns must be prioritised in the national budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 to prevent and control Covid-19," she added.
The keynote recommended hygiene be prioritised as a vital tool of public health and epidemic preparedness, a large-scale nationwide hygiene campaign be invested in and public hand-washing points – with soap and water – be installed.
The keynote paper recommended increasing immediate investment in WASH and monitoring actual expenditures of WASH allocations.