By Elaine Bumstead, NCM Canada Director of International Projects
In the village of Ballan Chor,* Bangladesh, a community well supplies clean drinking water in a country facing a water scarcity crisis. For Christians living here, however, accessing the well water is not so easy.
Most of the Christian minority living in this part of southern Bangladesh come from a low-caste background. The oppression that people from the lower castes meet on a daily basis does not go away when they become Christians—it actually worsens. Their community can even prohibit them from using the communal well, forcing them to find water elsewhere.
Still, people are coming to faith in spite of these challenges. In Ballan Chor, Pastor Samuel Baroi* leads a thriving Nazarene congregation. Sitting in his bamboo and mud home, the pastor humbly but eagerly shared about their growth.
“There are now 44 baptized adult members, and about 75 people attend the weekly worship services,” he said.
Although Baroi is among the poorest in his village, he donated a portion of the small plot of land he owns so that the congregation would have a place to gather. As the congregation continued expanding, they sought additional ways to meet needs in their community. At the top of the list was addressing their limited access to water.
Since Christians in Ballan Chor were no longer allowed to draw from the community well, they had to walk five kilometers (about three miles) to find clean water at another well and then walk back, carrying their heavy pots. They would have to make this trip several times a day to supply a family with enough water for drinking and cooking. Instead, many church members resigned themselves to finding what water they could from closer, unclean sources.
“There is never enough clean water, and our people use the nearby fish pond for bathing, washing clothes, and even for drinking,” Baroi said. “They are often sick from this water. We have watched as young children in our families die because of the polluted water.”
In fact, in Bangladesh, around 110,000 children under the age of five die every year from water-related illness. Baroi did not want the Ballan Chor children to become part of that statistic.
The pastor believed the church could build its own well. It would be difficult but not impossible. Ballan Chor is in a low-lying area close to the Bay of Bengal, where the ground water is salty due to frequent cyclones and tidal waves coming off the bay, so they would have to drill quite deep to find fresh water. With the support of their district, the Ballan Chor Church of the Nazarene did just that. Careful to maintain government-approved standards, they used a tube well, the most common water technology in Bangladesh.
After a hand pump was installed, Baroi called his congregation together. In a ceremony of thanksgiving, they dedicated the new well to the glory of God and thanked God for the provision.
Water for All
Today, Christians in Ballan Chor do not have to walk far to find water that is safe for children to drink. They no longer drink polluted pond water, and as a result, waterborne illness has greatly decreased. Children miss less school since they are sick less often, and women are able to spend time on other valuable activities to care for their families.
There is now enough clean drinking water for all the families who are part of Baroi’s congregation. But beyond that, they share water with their neighbors. The Ballan Chor Church of the Nazarene made a decision not to discriminate. They are living out God’s words through the prophet Isaiah: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1, NIV).
The congregation’s willingness to share has caught the attention of the same community members who had banned Christians from using the central well. Some have even started attending worship services with the Nazarene congregation and are hearing for the first time Christ’s gospel message of pure grace poured out. n
BELOW THE SURFACE: BANGLADESH’S WATER CRISIS
Bangladesh is one of our world’s most densely populated countries. It is also one of its most water-impoverished. Lack of clean water is a struggle for the 156 million people living there.
Bangladesh sits in the matrix of three large rivers—the Brahmaputra, Meghna, and Ganges—and their tributaries that flow into the Bay of Bengal. During monsoon season, flooding constantly threatens the low-lying delta, and cyclones wreak additional havoc on the massive population along the southern coast. When the bay’s salt waters flood the land, salinization kills crops and contaminates water sources. Since the deep wells needed to find fresh water are expensive, many poorer villages have no source of good drinking water for months each year.
In the north, poor water quality is a problem for those using ponds and shallow wells that are contaminated by waterborne diseases, such as cholera. The ground water in urban areas is often dirtied by industrial pollution.
Arsenic contamination complicates the already fragile water situation. More than a decade ago, arsenic was discovered in the groundwater—and wells—in much of Bangladesh. While disease rates connected to waterborne illness have dropped, a study published in The Lancet medical journal in June 2010 suggests that as many as one in five deaths in Bangladesh is caused by arsenic poisoning.
Communities can avoid arsenic poisoning by drilling deeper wells. NCM in Bangladesh always tests water supplies for arsenic and, when needed, drills deeper wells to find safe water as part of an effort to provide water for life.
TUBE WELLS: A SIMPLE SOLUTION
The Ballan Chor Church of the Nazarene is one of more than 1,500 Nazarene congregations in Bangladesh. NCM helps provide the communities near these congregations with clean water through a simple approach: tube wells.
Tube wells are the most common water technology in Bangladesh, in part because they are easy to sink, and in part because the materials are available locally. Tube wells also are the water system that the people know well, so congregations have the skills to maintain them.
The process is straightforward. A five- to eight-inch (13- to 20-centimeter) borehole is drilled using metal pipes. The soft river delta ground in Bangladesh allows drillers easily to go down 100 to 1,500 feet (20 to 457 meters) to the water table.
The hole is lined with clay to prevent it from caving in, and PVC pipes (or tubes) are placed down the hole. The bottom section of the pipe is a “screen” with slits that can be made on site with a hacksaw. This allows water into the well but keeps silt and other possible debris out. Then a sand-and-gravel pack is placed above the screen to trap additional debris that could otherwise seep in.
The water supply is kept sanitary with a seal at the top, so ground-water contamination does not leak into the well. This seal is created with grout at the top of the hole and solidified with a concrete slab that is raised so any excess water flows away from the well.
Each tube well produces enough water to serve 100 to 500 people a day. The Nazarene church in Bangladesh is committed to placing wells in open areas, making them accessible to anyone in need.