In an increasingly urbanizing world, perhaps Water1st’s most significant discovery has been Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK)—our smart, compassionate, and highly-motivated partner in Bangladesh. DSK has pioneered an extremely effective means of providing water, toilets, and hygiene education in the urban slum environment.

We began funding DSK in two slums areas in Dhaka in 2006. Since then, they have demonstrated the ability to scale up and spread out. With increased Water1st funding, DSK now implements hundreds of projects a year in Bangladesh’s three largest cities of Dhaka, Chittagong, and Khulna.

One of DSK’s brilliant moves has been incorporating micro-lending into its operations. Water systems and toilets are not given away. Users must repay the full construction cost to DSK over 1-2 years. Repayment rates have exceeded 96%. These repaid loans are then used to fund more projects. Currently, 49% of our annual budget for Bangladesh comes from repaid loans.



Population: 157,826,578
% living on less than $1.25/day: 43.3%
Partner: Dushtha Shasthya Kendra


2,830 projects
157,379 people with clean water and toilets


200 loan-based projects
serving more than 20,000 people

*Source: World Factbook and UNICEF

Take a virtual tour of a typical project:



Receiving an independent evidence-based evaluation from the Water for Life Rating System and scoring “Recommended for Future Funding.”

In 13 years, our partner in Bangladesh has completed 2,699 water projects with Water1st funding. Each project serves a small group of slum residents. The high volume of project construction provides an ideal learning laboratory for water, toilet, and hygiene practices.

Our findings:

Poor people will choose more expensive services if the system is guaranteed to perform better.

Poor people will repay loans at a higher rate than homeowners in the USA.

Functionality and convenience drive toilet use, not cost or lack of education.


Working in urban slums is complex—population density is incredibly high, space is at a premium. Slums imply challenging ownership patterns and issues, including the risk of eviction and redevelopment. This uncertainty translates into a reluctance to invest in infrastructure like water systems and toilets. When improvements are made, people often seek to minimize cost, which results in low-quality construction. In Chittagong, the challenges are magnified by a scarcity of usable water resources.

In spite of these challenges, DSK has developed a world-class program that provides high quality water and sanitation services to urban slum dwellers.

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