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Saturday, 30 March, 2002, 15:51 GMT
Bangladesh army guards water supply
Women and children wait for water
Water is increasingly becoming a precious commodity
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By Alastair Lawson
BBC correspondent in Dhaka
The government of Bangladesh has deployed the army for the third year running to stop the theft of water supplies in the capital, Dhaka.

It says troops will help ensure that water is more fairly distributed.

The decision has been taken because the country, normally associated with heavy rains and flooding, is in the midst of a hot spell, with many areas in Dhaka running dry.

The water authorities say demand is now outstripping supply, and people living in slums are beginning to suffer.

Water shortages are not something that the people of Bangladesh are used to.

But water is now becoming such a precious commodity that troops are being deployed on an annual basis to protect supplies.

Acute shortage

All this may seem a little unlikely in a country famed for its huge rivers, which frequently burst their banks in the rainy season, causing flooding on a huge scale.

A soldier guards a water tanker
Troops will ensure fair distribution
But March is normally the end of the dry season, and water supplies in Dhaka and other urban areas are drying up.

The Managing Director of the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, Azaharul Hoque, told the BBC that the city of Dhaka uses roughly 1,600 million litres of water a day.

He said the maximum his water processing stations could produce was around 1,300 million litres daily.

He said that, as the weather gets hotter, demand will increase, and the shortfall will become greater.

Water theft

Mr Hoque said the decision to deploy the army was made in order to stop the theft of water from processing plants by organised criminals.

He said that measures would be introduced to stop water being stolen from supply pipes by slum dwellers.

Mr Hoque said that troops would, however, transport water to areas of Dhaka where supplies had dried up.

He said that, while every effort was being made to ensure that slum dwellers did not run out of water, the authorities would severely punish anyone caught stealing it.

Even when the rains do come some time in April, it is not expected that Dhaka's water shortages will be immediately solved.

Most flood water on the surface is not fit for human consumption, and it takes several weeks of heavy rain before ground water supplies are replenished.

But Mr Hoque says that matters should improve after July when a multi-million dollar water treatment plant comes into operation.

See also:

16 Jan 02 | South Asia
Arsenic affecting Bangladesh crops
21 Oct 00 | South Asia
Bangladesh row over floods
13 Apr 99 | South Asia
Bangladesh faces water shortages
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