When the room was asked, “What would you sacrifice to get access to water?” among many good answers, one person said, “I will sacrifice my ego.”
Such was the thoughtfulness of Water Meetup Dhaka, organized and hosted by ULAB Sustainable Development Club and AmaderPani.org at the ULAB premises on June 9, 2015. The meetup was an informal gathering of like-minded young individuals interested in working with water issues.
I had the opportunity of moderating the session and our aim of the discussion was to mobilize a group towards implementing water related projects. We had students of University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh (ULAB), Dhaka University (DU), Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) and United International University (UIU), all armed and prepped to make a statement. We also had some guests from the private sector, including Unilever Water and PNL Holdings.
Before going in to the meetup, I wondered for several days as to what could be the best possible way to engage an otherwise very busy and occupied audience. Students these days are undoubtedly under stress of semester deadlines, research commitments and not to mention daily troubleshooting of Dhaka life (e.g avoiding traffic).
The discussion started off with 2 videos from Conservation International regarding water and nature. These are the two items I’d carry around my neck, if they could be chainable, and if I had liked wearing jewellery.
Then came the ice-breaker.
“Your picture and name has been published in the newspaper 1 year from now. What would be the best caption?”
Everyone seemed tensed prior to this, but who doesn’t like talking about their dreams?
Few wanted to be known for the great films they made, someone wanted to be known for the 2nd Nobel Prize Winner in Bangladesh. Some however aligned their dreams with the topic in hand – getting known for solving water problems, making breakthrough in water research or getting a PhD doing that.
It’s nice talking about dreams, because that’s what motivates us and helps us get better at what we do and who we are. But that’s always not the case. Not everyone gets to fulfill their dreams and pursue their interests. Most often not because they didn’t try hard, but because they didn’t have the resources or the proper environment to do so.
This is when our 2nd topic got floated.
“There is no water around you for 7 days. What would you sacrifice to get access to water?”
The mood of the room shifted, from humor to somber. Some quickly answered that ‘time’ would be the most important sacrifice. Time to study, to work, to earn, to have fun and relax. All needs to be forgotten. The darkest of all scenarios is when an urban dweller doesn’t have drinking water. A situation almost unimaginable to most of us.
Or so it seemed, when someone mentioned that his area didn’t have water for more than 30 days. He is the one who pointed out, before everything else we need to sacrifice our ego. He and his neighborhood friends in Rayerbazar went up to WASA and asked for 2 cycle vans. They used this to collect water from other area’s water pump and then bring it back to their neighborhood – everyday until the problem was resolved.
These are harsh stories, stories that infuriate us and that’s why we dived in to this further. Our 3rd topic asked our participants to recollect something from the past.
“Tell us about one water related story that made you angry.”
One of the stories that stood out during this session was of a young environmental researcher working on the Botanical Gardens in Mirpur. The three lakes situated in the garden are the primary surface water sources of the garden. Surrounding establishments, including the Mirpur Zoo, an army establishment and other industrial estates are directly dumping their wastewater into the lake. Polluting this lake makes the water unusable for garden purposes. More importantly, the rare orchids being nurtured in the garden are also affected as they are not getting adequate pure water supply. What angered her most though, was not just the pollution, but how in the authorities in the garden knew about all this and yet refused to take any steps. They went far as showing discontent for her being present there.
Quoting the former US President Bill Clinton, “When times are tough and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good, but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation.”
This is when we presented the final question of the day.
“You are asked to design a project related to water – what would you think is your biggest lacking in this particular case?”
We didn’t really get a definite answer, truth be told. But what we did get is the sudden inflow of ideas regarding what COULD be done for water. It was like someone switched on the innovation engine in everyone’s mind.
There were ideas about planting trees to naturally clean water, ideas for installing smart metering applications, ideas for effective awareness communication regarding water and many more.
What was most unique about all this was how everyone listened, debated and established opinion very passionately.
The formal discussion concluded with that question but the meetup carried on for almost another hour. During those final moments, we decided to form a team to carry the discussion further on towards an actionable project. It was mutually agreed that a cross-university team be formed to pursue a single project. This team will liaison with their respective communities to gather resources and volunteers to push forward the selected project.
I only hope that this is a first of many more meetups to take place in Dhaka and other places. There is no strict agenda for these meetings, but they should all inspire a project that the participants can work together to materialize into.
A sincere thanks to Mr. Tawhidur Rahman Sir, Senior Lecturer and Research Associate at the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) at ULAB for giving us the required guidance in starting this and a special thanks to Mr. Mehdi Rajeb, Assistant Professor and Research Associate at School of Business, ULAB for bringing us together.
Seerat Hassan Ahmed, President of ULAB Sustainable Development Club and currently student there spared no effort in organizing the event and also participating actively in the discussion
Thanks to all the students of ULAB, DU, SUST and UIU and private sector guests who participated.