State of Cities 2018: Water Governance in Dhaka

Ensuring equitable and affordable access to safe water to the ever-growing population of Dhaka is a monumental challenge. To understand the existing water governance and find ways to tackle this challenge, we have chosen water as the topic of our seventh annual flagship report of its kind, the “State of Cities 2018: Water Governance in Dhaka.” We found that though the Dhaka Water Supply & Sewerage Authority (DWASA) is mandated to supply water to the inhabitants of Dhaka, it has to depend on multiple stakeholders, including public and private entities. Moreover, DWASA alone cannot meet the water demand, if citizens do not use water efficiently.

Researchers: Raihan Ahamed; Zeeshan Ashraf; Md Mahan Ul Hoque; Mohammad Sirajul Islam; Maria Matin; Zia Mohammad; Tanvir Ahmed Mozumder; Sumaiya Kabir Talukder; Montajima Tasnim

Partners: International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Timeline: 2018-2019

Status: Completed

Contact: Mohammad Sirajul Islam                                                                                                                                                              


Report: State of Cities 2018: Water Governance in Dhaka


Cities around the world are gradually moving towards an unforeseen water crisis. The severe water crisis has already forced South Africa’s Cape Town to observe “Day Zero.” Other major cities across the world such as Tokyo, London, Cairo, etc. are likely to meet the same fate. Bangladesh is no exception. With over 42 million urban residents, Bangladesh has one of the largest urban populations in the world. Dhaka is the largest and fastest-growing urban centre in Bangladesh. One-tenth of the country’s population and a third of its urban population (36%) live in Dhaka. How to meet the water demand of this huge, concentrated, and increasingly prosperous urban population is becoming a major challenge and will also be crucial to achieving the targets of SDG 6: ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water for all.


The objective of this study was to find ways of ensuring equitable and affordable access to safe water by assessing the present water usage; future water demand; capacity of the water supply system to meet the current and future water demand; water quality; and management of surface water sources.


In this mixed-method study, we employed desk research combined with qualitative and quantitative methods. This study focused on 9 out of 11 DWASA Zones that fall within Dhaka city. For this study, we surveyed 768 randomly selected households from both formal and informal settlements. The number of households surveyed in each Zone was proportional to the number of official DWASA connections within the Zone. Moreover, besides reviewing related literature, we conducted qualitative interviews with relevant government officials and experts.

Findings and Recommendations

It emerged from our findings that there exists a huge difference between the water usage of formal and informal settlements. On one hand, households in the formal settlements, on average, use more than double the water demand estimated by DWASA. On the other, households in the informal settlements, receive far less water than required for a decent living. Many of them do not have access to legal DWASA water and buy water from third parties at an outrageous rate. Our findings also suggest that the current billing system, which is irrespective of individual water usage, encourages inefficient water usage. We also found that water demand is likely to soar for a number of reasons: increase in population and per capita income, the commensurate increase in the usage of water-based amenities (e.g. flushing toilets and showers), climate change, and increasing concentration of people and infrastructure. Meanwhile, DWASA is already struggling to supply an adequate amount of water. DWASA’s overdependence on groundwater also has environmental consequences. If the current rate of groundwater extraction continues, it will cause significant groundwater depletion. Our survey findings reveal that the quality of the supplied water is not up to the mark. More than a third of the citizens complained about getting the water that does not have the desired colour, smell, or taste. Through laboratory tests, we also find that the water that ultimately reaches the households is mostly contaminated by coliform bacteria.

In this perplexing situation, instead of increasing water supply, it is more rational to decrease water demand by setting a standard recommendation for water usage and a multi-pronged program for water conservation. Large-scale public awareness should be raised regarding efficient water usage.