Rickshaw puller Md Belal stood at Jamal Khan Road at noon on Friday, his clothes stuck to his body with sweat. The 37-year-old has been pulling rickshaws for a long time and the heat is part of the job. Still, the scorching sun threatened to make the most of him. Exhausted, Belal pulled out a Tk 5 ticket and walked over to the nearest lemonade vendor.
According to the Met Office, the city’s highest temperature was 35 degrees Celsius yesterday. The same mark has been reached over the past two days, while the average temperature has remained similar. Coupled with the high humidity, this was reason enough to put people – especially those doing forced labor – into extreme poverty.
The inhabitants of the port city, especially day workers like Belal, suffered greatly from working in direct sunlight throughout the day. This correspondent came across several stories of heatstroke.
“Heat stroke is a common health problem for people who work in this scorching sun,” said Dr. Sujat Paul, chief of medicine at Chattogram Medical College.
Across the city, another story resonates: dehydration. Resisting the heat is one thing, but what made these workers’ woes worse is the lack of affordable clean water.
According to health experts, safe and unsanitary drinking water can be the deciding factor for water-borne illnesses like diarrhea, jaundice and typhoid, especially during this heat wave.
But due to the lack of safe sources, most people have to resort to other means, such as untreated water from sewers and canals, or straight from the tap, Dr Paul said.
For example, Belal said he was well aware of the consequences of drinking unsafe water; her fifth-grade daughter told her about it. But he has no options.
“My daughter forbade me to drink unsanitary water in roadside shops and gave me a bottle of boiled water when I went out with the rickshaw in the morning,” Belal said. “But I finished that liter of water in an hour.”
“My income is stuck at 300 Tk per day because I cannot work all day against the intense heat,” he told this correspondent. “From there 50 Tk goes to the owner. If I spend 30 to 50 Tk on bottled water, what should I take home?” The most he can afford is the Tk 5 he spent on lemonade, the water of which may have come from a questionable source.
As a solution, Dr Mahfuzur Rahman, organizer of the Committee for the Protection of Public Health Rights, Chattogram, said organizations providing public services like Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) and Chattogram Wasa should set up drinking water booths. every two kilometers, working together for this if necessary.
“It will not be an expensive project but will greatly benefit people in the low income group who cannot afford to buy bottled water,” he said.
Beyond the working class, drinking water booths will also be of immense help to other demographic groups, such as students, said SM Nazer Hossain, vice president of the Bangladesh Consumers Association ( Cab).
“Commuters and city workers have a right to clean drinking water, which they should have free or at a nominal price,” Nazer added.
When contacted, Ariful Islam, engineer superintendent of Chattogram Wasa, admitted the need to set up drinking water booths in different points of the city.
“We have already started a pilot project – in collaboration with a private company – to install water cabins where people can buy a liter of drinking water for fifty paisa,” he said.
“To begin with, a few of these water vending machines were installed in Khulshi, Agrabad and Halishahar regions as part of a pilot project,” Ariful said.
“We will set up a total of 100 stalls in the city,” he said. “We are talking to CCC about this because we don’t have enough space to set up the stands.”
Despite repeated attempts by phone, CCC Mayor Rezaul Karim Chowdhury could not be reached for comment.