UCLG ASPAC’s work under “Municipalities Network Policy Advocacy on Sanitation in South Asia” is progressing in both Bangladesh and Nepal. As City Wide Inclusive Sanitation Workshop activity was completed in both countries, we spent some time to discuss with Md Abdul Baten, Mayor of Bera Municipality and President of Municipalities Association of Bangladesh. See what he says about the importance of faecal sludge management, how it benefits population, vision for sanitation, and many more.

“The challenge in local governance apart from political commitment is the legal side.”

Md Abdul Baten
Mayor, Bera Municipality, Bangladesh
President, Municipal Association of Bangladesh (MAB)

Why is there a need for faecal sludge management?

Cities have to be clean for the young generation and promote good health. We have to clean our cities. We have to remove pollution. Even in Islam, there is a religious quote that says “Cleanliness is a part of our daily lives”. If the Municipal Association of Bangladesh (MAB) adopts faecal sludge management, it will contribute to reducing environmental pollution which will give a better future for the new generation. It does not only mean adopting faecal sludge management but institutionalising it through policies and legal guidelines. MAB has been working since 2003 to advocate for the creation of such policies that are not only in support of the central government but also the voice of municipalities. The policies would lead to concrete protects to uphold citizen rights. Due to its importance, MAB is working both within the countries and as member of global organisations such as UCLG ASPAC to exchange knowledge and good practices.

How can UCLG ASPAC help you in improving the state of sanitation in Bangladesh municipalities? 

The Municipalities Network Policy Advocacy on Sanitation in South Asia project is currently supporting five pilot municipalities in Bangladesh. Bera Municipality has been conducting awareness raising campaigns by connecting professional groups with schools. The knowledge on cleanliness or even faecal sludge management children gain at schools can be valuable at home. There are various standing committees within municipalities. With support from UCLG ASPAC, these committees can remain active in enhancing their human resource capacity. We seriously want this to continue and with the positive result of this five municipalities in Bangladesh, we want to replicate the learnings in all the remaining 323 municipalities. The general population will benefit immensely. We will also be awarding municipality turning champions in sanitation. Hence, UCLG ASPAC is lighting the fire from top to bottom to address sanitation issues in Bangladesh. MAB is proud to help realising the vision into reality.

As a local representative yourself, what are the challenges you are facing in bringing about political commitment?

Awareness and social mobilisation are the requirements but no one is going to respond if the authority does enact laws for social awareness. We need both simultaneously. Hence, the challenge is the legal side. For example, we need strong “city codes” that will impose punishments for environmental violators, not only faecal sludge but also other environmental pollution. The main challenge is to have such strong laws in place apart from imposing enforcement. Plus, there should be provisions for submitting complaints into the “city code” so anyone found violating the law will get reported to authorities.

What would be your three mandates on sanitation if you are going into next local elections?

As a Mayor, a human being and a follower of Islamic practices, there is provision to work for social welfare to keep the environment clean. As Mayor, I have bigger responsibility to not only keep my own surroundings clean but also environment of others. The municipality is a service oriented organisation. Sanitation or faecal sludge management falls under one of the main mandates. First, I want to ensure that we continue to focus on awareness raising and capacity building initiatives to manage faecal waste. Secondly, I want to work for the low-income people. Our data tells us that everyone in Bangladesh have access to toilets but not for improved sanitation services. I want to build a partnership between the municipality and affluent people in my area to construct safely managed sanitation services for the low- income people. I also want to build a community hospital as health is directly related to sanitation. My final commitment would be to plant trees in at least 20 percent of the total area of my municipality as it will reduce pollution on a larger scale.

This project covers both Bangladesh and Nepal. What message do you want to give to Mayors from Nepal?   

My message to Mayors from both Bangladesh and Nepal is to always focus on institutional capacity building a well as the human resources. If we continue to do this, it is going to help not only the municipalities but to all sectors.

Is there anything else you want to tell us?

All religions tell us that there is a judgement day and each individual will be judged based on what you have seen, heard, felt and so on. I am now gathering a lot of knowledge but one day I will be judged if the knowledge I have gained is not put to good purpose. If I do so, the soul is cleansed and the Almighty will reward you one day. Link this to faecal sludge management. If you see someone making an illegal connection to the sewerage, report it. Even when it comes to gaining knowledge on faecal sludge management, we should practice it within our own residences. By doing so, we will be going a huge social welfare as well as keeping the environment clean.