In the face of families whose relatives have just died of arsenic poisoning advocating for institutional reform can seem a touch inane.
On the flip side, an urgent response to provide clean water or some relief to those affected is often neither sustainable nor scalable.
During a visit to Chapai Nawabganj we discovered that the Horizontal Learning Program enables rapid response - without undermining a sound policy position.
While visiting Meherpur municipality in Bangladesh last week, we learnt that 15 people had recently died in the nearby Amjhupi Union Parishad (UP) from arsenicosis. In a village meeting with the District Commissioner and UP Chairman we discovered that the citizens were drinking from both wells marked green (safe) as well as red (unsafe) because they were not confident that either of these sources had been correctly marked.
We were overwhelmed with the need for an immediate response but aware that any top-down solution could at best be partial. However, because of the Horizontal Learning Program (initiated by Union Parishads, facilitated by the Government of Bangladesh and supported by development partners) we were aware that local solutions to this problem had been developed by other Union Parishads.
At around 11 pm that night, it was resolved that a three member team from Amjhupi Union Parishad would join us to visit the nearby Ranihati Union Parishad of the neighboring Chapai Nawabganj Upazila (sub-district) to see how they had solved this problem. The solution was surprisingly simple, low cost and comprehensive.