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Summary of NGO Forum's arsenic activities

S M A Rashid

NGO Forum for Drinking Water Supply & Sanitation (NGO Forum) was formed in 1982 with a view to supporting the NGOs and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) engaged in water supply and sanitation activities in the un-served and under-served rural areas and fringes of the country. After a decade of relentless development activities in the mentioned areas, NGO Forum presently stands as the apex networking body of NGOs and CBOs in Water and Sanitation (WatSan) sector in Bangladesh with a network of about 533 implementing partner NGOs and CBOs.

Groundwater provides safe drinking water to over 97 per cent of the rural population in Bangladesh. This extensive coverage is indicative of the countryís successful attempt to provide safe drinking water to its general population. This respectable public health effort was overshadowed when in 1993 an alarming discovery confirmed of arsenic contamination in groundwater. The arsenic contamination discovery was first made in the northeastern part of the country. But it was soon evident that the contamination was more widespread and not confined to any one local area. As more chemical tests and research works were being performed and subsequently concluded, the extent of the problem became evident. The total number of people anticipated to be directly affected by this contamination was an extraordinary 60 million, literally half the countryís entire human base. This staggering number has become the focal point for the underlying effort to halt the spread of arsenic contamination in groundwater in Bangladesh.

NGO Forum has been striving to find out possible options to combat the arsenic problem in water supply and also to raise proper awareness on arsenic. A brief account of the measures undertaken so far with regard to arsenic is outlined below:

  1. Establishment of arsenic cell: NGO Forum has established an Arsenic Cell to focus and prioritize its involvement in arsenic mitigation activities to supply safe water. The ultimate goal of the Cell is to provide safe drinking water for the people in the intervention areas through.
  2. Exploring the possibilities of applicable and sustainable mitigation measures as well as seeking alternative water supply sources.
  3. Implementation of arsenic mitigation activities for safe water supply through NGOs.
  4. Setting up a decentralized organizational structure capable of implementing operating, and maintaining the mitigation measures.
  5. Random testing of tubewell water: In order to know the extent of arsenic contamination in groundwater, NGO Forum started testing the tubewell water of different parts of the country since February 1997. This testing exercise is being done in all 12 regional offices of NGO Forum on random basis considering the geo-hydrological and hydrochemical conditions.
  6. Pre-installation testing: When all related criteria for installing tubewell in any proposed location are fulfilled, NGO Forum undertakes the necessary action to test the groundwater of the nearby tubewells of the proposed location in order to know whether the area contains arsenic.
  7. Testing during tubewell installation: After successful completion of the pre-installation testing, necessary action for testing the groundwater of the proposed tubewell location is taken by NGO Forum.
  8. Post-installation testing: As the incidence of arsenic contamination is increasing day by day, NGO Forum has been testing the groundwater of each and every installed tubewell every after six-month period in order to know the existing groundwater status.

Beyond water quality testing, NGO Forum is also giving emphasis on the following mentioned issues:

  1. Capacity building of partner NGOs: In light of the present arsenic situation, NGO Forum at its every regional areas has been organizing training courses attended by the staff of partner NGOs. In those courses, trainees are trained up on testing arsenic contamination in tubewell water and also on information dissemination. Besides, NGO Forum is responding to the needs of partner NGOs in assisting them to organize training sessions and other promotional arrangements, which are helping the partners to raise community awareness of arsenic.
  2. Promotional activities: The arsenic issue is regularly discussed at the community level with the conduction of NGO Forumís promotional activities such as Courtyard Meeting, Local Discussion Forum, School WatSan Programme, etc., in order to avoid possible panic of the community people on the arsenic issue rather to help them in taking necessary preventive measures.
  3. Development of communication materials: NGO Forum has been developing various communication materials like posters and leaflets on Arsenic issue to build-up mass awareness in identifying arsenicosis. These materials are being developed in consultation with and input from the communication and arsenic experts of different agencies, which are being distributed among the community through partner NGOs and other stakeholders including the mass media.
  4. Information dissemination: NGO Forum has been disseminating research oriented information relating to arsenicosis through its monthly newsletter Pani Probaha (Bangla) and quarterly newsletter WatSan (English). These newsletters are being distributed among NGOs, various government offices including all relevant stakeholders all over the country. NGO Forum has also been organizing workshops, seminars, symposiums, etc. through which various types of information and messages are being distributed, and necessary options and opinions are being collected.
  5. Internet services: NGO Forum has developed and hosted a web site recently, which contains various types of information on arsenic. The objective of hosting this web site is to inform interested information seekers, both national and international, about various facts and figures relating to arsenic and what NGO Forum has done so far and plans to undertake in the days ahead.

 

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