A day full of events is just ahead of us, the action packed Environment Day on June 5th. Organisations and activists around the world and even in Bangladesh will celebrate the day with eye catching activities. But most of these activities will make little or no contribution to lessen our ever increasing environmental threat. Climate change and the manmade abuse of natural resources have endangered the resources vital for our life, mostly fresh water.
However a Bangladeshi entrepreneur named Ataul Karim has come up a way to face the challenge of the severe drinking water crisis in Bangladesh. This young entrepreneur and the owner of ABM Water Company says, “At my locality in Sylhet, the main problem with the drinking water is high concentration of iron. While experiencing this problem the idea of producing fresh water struck my mind. At that time I didn't have the know-how but I started to explore the field of water resources. Thus I studied the latest water treatment technologies such as reverse osmosis, struggled hard to establish my own firm and took the challenge to ensure safe drinking water for my countrymen.”
How is Ataul doing with this challenge? Zomela Banu of Koyra village can give the answer. Koyra is a remote coastal village under Khulna district. After two devastating cyclones named Sidr and Aila, most of the sweet water sources got contaminated and became saline. Zomela Banu, a poor housewife from this village says “The only source of our drinking water was a tank beside the Mia bari. He charged us twenty taka per five litres of his water from that tank. It was very difficult for me to afford that price. Now we have a machine to get fresh water. From that machine I collect twenty litres of fresh drinking water for only 5 taka.”
The machine is nothing but desalination equipment installed by Ataul's ABM water company. After the devastation by cyclone Sidr and Aila several small desalination systems were installed in the coastal areas by international donors. But due to poor maintenance and complicated technology most of these systems became damaged and discarded as unusable wreckage. Ataul says, “What we are doing to prevent this consequence is to use simpler technology. We train a local technician to handle the machine and from the nominal price of the water we ensure the technician's salary. As a home company it is easier for us to ensure proper maintenance.”
Not only in Koyra village Ataul and his team have been installing water desalination plants in different coastal areas and ensuring proper maintenance. Where desalination is not possible, they have introduced rain water harvesting to convert rainwater into fresh drinking water. By introducing desalination treatment and rain water harvesting technology Ataul has ensured safe drinking water in many remote villages of Bangladesh.
While sharing experience Ataul says, “The biggest challenge I have faced to establish my effort is to compete with the foreign conglomerates. All the water treatment plants of our country have been installed by foreign companies who charge excessive costs for installation and maintenance. It took me a long time to convince our countrymen that I can provide this service of equal standard within one third of the regular price. By ensuring quality service we have earned the trust and experience to serve my people.”
The first venture of Ataul and his company was to install desalination equipment in some vessels of the Bangladesh Navy by which the sea faring sailors could convert saline sea water into fresh and safe drinking water. After completing this difficult task successfully with minimum costing, Ataul's ABM water company earned distinction among many of his foreign competitors. Ataul was invited to provide his plants for the UN missions of the Bangladesh Navy and for the military establishments. Ataul's company is now installing the largest desalination water treatment plant of South Asia for the Chittagong Sea Port.
So what made Ataul venture into the area of water purification? “I could earn much more money by doing other easier business” says Ataul. “But I took this initiative because within my profession I wanted to do something prolific for my country. Through my efforts I have developed the manpower skilled to handle the latest technology in water treatment systems. I have a dream to export our skills to other countries and earn a huge amount foreign currency for Bangladesh.”
With a fully fledged factory in Ashulia comprised of 70 workers Ataul is doing really well with his business. He has been conferred the Bristol Blue Award this year for his professional contribution to protecting the environment. For young entrepreneurs Ataul can be an example and a source of inspiration. Our government should patronise young entrepreneurs like Ataul who have merged their dream of success with the country's prosperity.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org