Leading sustainable systems change: A conversation with WSUP’s Bangladesh Country Manager

Countries: Bangladesh

Recently appointed as the Country Manager of WSUP Bangladesh, Uttam Kumar Saha is a seasoned professional with over 23 years of experience in the WASH sector. His passion lies in developing sustainable WASH solutions through public-private partnerships and private-sector engagement. A civil and environmental engineering graduate, he has played a vital role in shaping Bangladesh’s WASH policies and national action plans.

In this interview, Uttam discusses the unique challenges Bangladesh faces in achieving WASH access for all and how WSUP’s approach provides a localised solution.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

In the last two decades, I’ve worked in WASH, focusing on private-sector engagement and creating public-private partnerships for sanitation and faecal sludge waste management in cities. I’ve also been involved in developing WASH policies and national action plans.

What motivates you to lead WSUP’s WASH efforts in Bangladesh?

I’m passionate about focusing on urban WASH and using private-sector approaches to create inclusive solutions – something WSUP is already doing.

Bangladesh has a unique set of challenges when it comes to WASH access. What are the biggest hurdles you see?

Water safety is a major concern due to climate change, such as saltwater intrusion due to rising sea levels. There’s also groundwater pollution from arsenic and other sources. On the sanitation side, managing faecal sludge and keeping toilets functioning in areas prone to flooding are big issues. And, of course, hygiene practices and menstrual hygiene management need improvement, especially considering traditional practices and affordability.

Those are all valid points. How does WSUP address these challenges?

We focus on a private sector-led approach tailored to each location, adapting our approach to best serve the communities. We encourage innovation and involve all stakeholders in the process.

Women and girls often have specific needs in WASH. How can WSUP better integrate their needs?

Great question. We need to focus on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) prevention in sanitation facilities. We also want to see more women entrepreneurs and greater female participation in WASH initiatives. Lastly, as a sector, we must develop specific plans for each project to address gender issues and track our progress.

That’s fantastic. What about investment opportunities in Bangladesh’s sanitation sector?

The government is creating a supportive environment for investors. Favourable policies and support for waste management and sanitation improvements exist.

WSUP is known for innovation. Are there any existing projects that exemplify this?

Yes. WSUP’s project on safe faecal sludge emptying and transport from on-site sanitation facilities, best known as ‘SWEEP’, is one of them. The SWEEP model has contributed to increasing access to sanitation in disadvantaged communities and has great potential for expansion.

That’s great to hear. How, then, can these successful projects be scaled up?

We can reach more communities and change lives by sharing successful approaches, building partnerships, and creating strong business models.

So, how can people get involved in supporting WSUP’s work?

We’re always looking for new partners and collaborators. We welcome support from interested individuals, foundations, corporate organisations, and financial institutions. Secondly, through our work with WSUP Advisory, we seek to build consortiums to reach more people.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your vision for WSUP in Bangladesh?

I envision WSUP reinforcing its position as a leader in the WASH sector, not just implementing projects but inspiring others to achieve the goals of SDG 6.2 (access to clean water and sanitation for all). Data-driven approaches, knowledge sharing, and continuous learning will also be key to our success in Bangladesh.