Thanks to JK at DS for supplying these to the west
bengal & bangladesh arsenic crisis information centre.
All articles (c) The Daily Star. Reprinted with permission.
Contents - latest articles first. Covers the period 17 Jul 97 to 20 Dec 97.
Team in Pabna to detect arsenic contaminationDecember
Which is safe - ground or surface water?November
'Arsenic found in 3060 tubewells out of 16651'November
Arsenic pollution spreading fast November
Arsenic affected Chandpur - Villagers don't know
what to do next November 10, 1997
Editorial: A Truly Good Turn November 10,
WB project to study origin of arsenic contaminationNovember
2027 arsenic patients in country November
Pilot project in 200 villages
to fight arsenic contamination November 2, 1997
Arsenic contamination detected in ground water of
Rajoir October 28, 1997:
Interview -'Enough Food does Not Ensure Food for
all' October 28, 1997
Arsenic detected in ground water in RajshahiSeptember
Arsenic detected in water in JhalakatiSeptember
ECOSOC for high attention to arsenic problemJuly
Contamination of arsenic in water of KurigramJuly
Netherlands keen to raise aid to BangladeshJuly
40 Million at Risk: Needed Awareness CampaignJuly
Editorial: Fight Against Arsenic July
Regional experts suggest urgent steps to tackle
arsenic problem July 17, 1997
December 20, 1997
Team in Pabna to detect arsenic contamination
PABNA, Dec 19: A high-powered team led by Dr Bakar N Kabir of the World
Bank today visited Hatigara village under Bera Pourasava of Pabna district
to conduct survey on arsenic contamination in tubewell waters.
The team will conduct similar survey in 203 villages under 50 thanas
of 23 districts as part of its three-month-long programme.
During today's visit, the team members made on the spot test and found
arsenic contamination in tubewell waters of different houses.
Arsenic contamination in tubewell waters of this village was detected
six months back after conducting a primary test jointly by Dhaka Community
Hospital, Public Health Engineering Department and Directorate of Health.
Several persons with skin diseases caused by drinking arsenic polluted
water were also found in the village.
While talking to The Daily Star, the team leader Dr Bakar N Kabir disclosed
that tubewell waters in many unions and villages under Bera thana are found
containing arsenic within permissible level.
The other members of the team were Dr Deepak Battacharya, Chief of Water
and Sanitation Section of UNICEF; Mike McCarthy, First Secretary, Engineering
Adviser, DFID, British High Commission; Mofazzal Haque, National Field
Programme Officer, WHO; Zahirul Haque, Superintending Engineer, Department
of Public Health Engineering, Rajshahi; Miss Lamia Karim, Raice University,
America; GB Sarkar, Senior chemist, WHO; Abdus Sattar, chemist, Department
of Public Health Engineering and Prof Quazi Kamruzzaman, Chairman of Dhaka
November 21, 1997
Which is safe - ground or surface water?
By Naimul Haq
Experts are divided over the use of surface water or groundwater as
an immediate solution to the problem of arsenic contamination of groundwater
in the country.
Some experts feel that surface water is safe for those exposed to arsenic
contamination while others maintain that use of surface water could be
harmful and suggested continued use of groundwater for drinking and cooking
"till something concrete is recommended."
Dr Dipankar Chakrabarti, an expert from India, said, "immediate advice
should be given to revert to the habit of using surface water for drinking
and cooking purposes." Dr Chakrabarti has been studying environmental effect
of wide-spread contamination of grou-ndwater by arsenic in Bang-ladesh
and West Bengal since 1984.
Talking to this correspondent in the city recently, he said, "For a
short term solution, there are basically two options - use of deep tubewell
(DTW) water or conservation of rain and river water. Installation of each
DTW costs between Tk 40,000 and 50,000 which is costly for ordinary villagers.
Conservation of rain and river water till now seems to be the most suitable
choice that should be acceptable in terms of expenditure."
Dr Mahmudur Rahman, a leading dermatologist of the country also working
in this field, said, ''The nature is taking revenge on us. Twenty years
ago, the concept of using groundwater was accepted without thinking of
its impact today. It is now high time we should properly utilise nature's
gift.'"As there is no scientific explanation for what exactly causes the
disease (Arsinicosis), we should really give it a second thought before
continuing to use groundwater resources."
He further said, "Let the underground water level rise, allowing time.
The more we pump out water, the deeper we have to reach underground, raising
the possibility of contamination by other minerals that could be equally
toxic. Who knows what is happening underground. So, the safest and easiest
approach to the crisis is shifting back to the habit of using surface water
- pond, canal and river water.
He pointed out that diarrhoea is not a water borne disease, only cholera
is. "So, if they (other experts) say it will involve the risk of diarrhoeal
epidemic if villagers are asked to use surface water again, I would say,
they are wrong."
While talking to The Daily Star on Monday, Director General of Health
Services Prof A K M Nurul Anwar said, "We are not going to consider options
for use of surface water for immediate solution to the problem. We are
going to wait until something concrete is recommended."Referring to the
research carried out by the National Institute of Preventive and Social
Medicine (NIPSOM) over the years, Prof Anwar said, "In the meantime, we
have developed a chemical powder packet that guarantees removal of 90 per
cent arsenic minerals from contaminated water if used properly. It is already
being distributed and widely recognised."
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO), at its New Delhi Regional
Consultation this year, recommended alternative use of surface water.
The WB and UNICEF are not very interested to recommend such a shift
so quickly as they see possibility of even greater impact. "It's too early
to advise such a plan which may have complete wrong implications other
than the good side of it," said Babar N Kabir, Chief of WB's Water and
Arsenic concentration in groundwater above normal level, first identified
back in 1993 by testing tubewell water, was alarming in some parts of the
country. The first detection and subsequent confirmation in 1995 of high
level arsenic concentration in many hand-pumped tubewells raised serious
health concern. Primary inves-tigations reveal that tubewell water in 60
districts out of the 64 is more or less contaminated with arsenic, exceeding
WHO's permissible limit of 0.05 milligram per liter (mg/L). A joint survey
by the School of Environment Studies of West Bengal's Jadavpur University
and Dhaka Community Hospital (DCH), analysing over 6000 water samples taken
from 41 districts showed that 45 per cent of the samples contained arsenic
more than the WHO-recommended value.
November 14, 1997
'Arsenic found in 3060 tubewells out of 16651'
LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Zillur Rahman yesterday informed the Jatiya
Sangsad that arsenic was found in 3060 tubewells out of a total 16651 tubewells
tested across the country by the Department of Public Health Engineering,
The minister was replying to a question from Awami League member Kazi
He said a study project was carried out with the support of UNICEF to
investigate and examine the causes of arsenic in underground water.
He said under the project, test tubewells were sunk for investigating
arsenic contamination in water. Water was being tested through field test
kit under the project, he added.
Besides, he said, another extensive study project was going to begin
soon with the assistance from the British Geological Society. He also informed
the Jatiya Sangsad, that an investment project would be undertaken very
soon in this connection. contents
November 12, 1997
Arsenic pollution spreading fast
Arsenic pollution has been spreading in the districts of Pabna and Jessore
Our Pabna Correspondent says: Arsenic pollution has been spreading in
different thanas of Pabna district. Very recently, it was detected in Pabna
pourasabha. Several patients have been affected by drinking arsenic polluted
water from a number of tubewells.
The Civil Surgeon of Pabna disclosed this recently while talking to
The Daily Star correspondent recently.
The Civil Surgeon further said that already four thanas out of nine
in Pabna district have been affected by arsenic pollution. These are: Pabna
Sadar, Ishurdi, Bera and Santhia.
The Civil Surgeon further disclosed that during the year 1997, at least
11 persons died and 200 others attacked with various incurable diseases
caused by drinking arsenic polluted tubewell water. Out of the total 200
patients, 40 were under treatment in different hospitals.
The Civil Surgeon stated out of 11 dead victims, four belonged to the
same family and all of them hailed from Paksey Paper Mills area under Ishurdi
The dead victims are: Fazlu, 34, son of Mozibar Rahman, Baby, 25, wife
late Fazlur, Kanak, 12, son of late Fazlu and Jahan Ara Begum, 25, daughter
of Mujibar Rahman. They belong to the same family and residents of village
Nalgari adjacent to North Bengal Paper Mills, Paksey.
Besides, Tara Banoo, 26, wife of Moksed Ali, 45, son of Fakir Ali, Tashima
Begum, 28, wife of Atiar Rahman, Abul Hossain, 25, of village Beelkada,
Hamid Ali, 50, Hasi Begum, 15, and Moslem Uddin Bhegal, 35, of Char Ruppur
under Paksey union of Ishurdi thana also fell victims.
Water of those tubewells contained arsenic above 0.05 mg per litre as
against the safe quantum of 0.001 mg per litre.
The Civil Surgeon stated that recently, during the month of October,
four patients were attacked with diseases caused by arsenic pollution.
They were detected from Arifpur and Salgaria areas - both under the Pabna
pourasabha. The patients were: Jahan Ara Begum, 35, wife of Imran Ali,
Hazera Parveen, 15, daughter of Imran Ali Joarder and Bilquis, 10, daughter
of Said Imran Ali of Arifpur. Besides, one Masud Rana, 25, son of Kamiruddin
of Salgaria under Pabna pourasabha was also found to have been attacked
with diseases caused by arsenic pollution.
In Ishurdi thana health complex, according to the same source, 32 patients
of arsenic pollution related diseases were being treated. All of them were
inhabitants of villages surrounding the North Bengal Paper Mills of Paksey.
Out of them, 17 hailed from village Beelkada, 12 from village Char Ruppur
and three from Paksey railway colony.
The Civil Surgeon expressed his apprehension that excessive arsenic
pollution in the water of tubewells surrounding the North Bengal Paper
Mills might have been caused due to waste of the mills.
Meanwhile, NIPSOM and Public Health Engineering Department have tested
samples of water from over 200 tubewells, out of which 30 tubewells were
found to contain arsenic above the standard level and all these tubewells
were already sealed by PHED.
Meanwhile, doctors in Pabna have expressed doubts that arsenic pollution
might spread to the other thanas of the district but no agency has yet
come forward to test of tubewell water in the remaining thanas.
Our Jessore Correspondent says: 4,000 people out of 5,000 villagers
of Samta village under Sharsha thana in the district are suffering from
diseases, caused by arsenic pollution in drinking water for the last 10
The number of affected people is increasing following its steady extension
to new areas.
Failure by the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) to control
arsenic, is worsening the situation.
According to statistical report, 15 people of the village have already
died of disease caused by arsenic pollution. They include Yusuf, Daud,
Hossain Nahar, Osman, Lalan, Ansar, Satter Sonabhan, Meherunnesa, Ayub,
Shamsu, and Hosen.
According to another report 33 are awaiting the tragic end of their
life in the same village.
They are Liton, Sona, Amirul, Habibor, Sahidul, Abdul Sorder, Aklima
Jahanara, Jobed Ali, Monzurul Huq, Sakhina, Siraj, Rahima, Achia, Abdul
Aziz, Selim Reza, Yasmin Rabeya, Jinnat Ali, Safura, Runa Tuhin, Unus,
Arjina, Asadul, Zia, Anisur, Anwar, Azizur, Rabiul, Sahida, Moslem, Rokeya
Acting on a media report, a 20-member team of specialists on arsenic,
poisoning, from Japan came on a survey to this village on October 10 last.
Not to speak of Samta, presence of arsenic was found in the drinking water
of other neighbouring villages during the survey.
Dr Dipankar Chakravarty of Jadabpur University collected nails, skin
and urine of 334 people of the villages for examination. During examination
it has been found that 95 per cent of the nails contain arsenic poison.
97 per cent have been found containing the arsenic germs by testing urine
of 301 people. 256 tubewells out of 279, have also been detected containing
arsenic and users have been advised to boycott water of those tubewells.
NIPSOM has already distributed water purifying tablets among 248 families.
It is reported, a number of NGOs are working at this village, but so
far they could not play any effective role to bring change the growth of
arsenic. Lack of water-testing laboratory in the area, in deepening the
PHED has found out layer in under ground water containing low-percentage
of arsenic. It is within acceptable limit. The acceptable limit of arsenic
is 0.05 mili gram while presence of arsenic in this area is 1.0 mg to 3.0
Arsenic leads to pigmentation of skin, keratosis, anaemia, respiratory
disorders, hepatitis, pain in abdomen and, ultimately causing cancer.
According to a source, arsenic problem is restricted to Jessore, Kushtia,
Chuadanga, Meherpur, Bagerhat and Khulna districts falling in the delta
region. It also goes beyond West Bengal also.
If tubewells are sunk in this village in massive quantity and the layer
goes below 700 feet the danger of arsenic may be avoided and people can
be supplied arsenic free water.
When contacted the local member of the parliament Tabibur Rahman Sarder,
urged the government to install at least 100 deep tubewells in the village
to save the people from arsenic. contents
November 10, 1997
Arsenic affected Chandpur - Villagers don't
know what to do next
By Naimul Haq, back from Chandpur
People of most of the villages in Chandpur district are worried over
use of tubewell water as they have been warned in widely publicised TV
documentaries not to drink tubewell water.
The implications are both good and bad. The good effect is that villagers
are giving up the habit of using tubewell water for fear of developing
arsenic-related diseases. The bad effect is misuse of water resources due
to certain misconceptions.
Chandpur is among the five districts in the country severely affected
by arsenic contamination of groundwater. A preliminary survey by the Department
of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE) showed that water of about 40 per
cent of the tubewells tested so far in Chandpur contained arsenic and 83
per cent of those 40 per cent had concentration of arsenic above the permissible
level of 0.05 mg per litre, according to sources in the DPHE. On an average,
there are about 30 tubewells in a village in the district.
But no arsenic contamination was found in deep tubewell water, the sources
During a recent tour of the district, this correspondent found that
villagers are well aware of the death of one Parimal Chandra Majumdar of
Shahapur village in Hajiganj thana from suspected arsenic-related cancer.
The news of his death from the disease spread beyond the district, upto
Ever since the death of Parimal, people in Chandpur are concerned over
the unfamiliar disease.
This correspondent visited a house in Nijmehar village to see an affected
person but could not meet her.
"My daughter always avoids appearing in public" her mother said. "She
goes to school covering herself to make sure no one sees the skin lesions
she has developed during the past six years. She has virtually isolated
herself," the mother said.
Thana Nirbahi Officer of Shahrasti Md Zafar Siddiq while talking to
this correspondent said, "People are asking all sorts of questions but
we have no reply as we have no knowledge of the problem. The villagers
want to know what is the solution if they can not use tubewell water and
what happens when anybody develops arsenic poisoning."
The TNO said, "People know about the disease. They are afraid of it.
But they don't know what to do. This is what actually worries us."
After the DPHE survey, the local administration took steps to warn the
people about the effects of arsenic contamination of groundwater. Consequently,
most of the people are giving up the habit of using tubewell water.
The Unicef and the DPHE, through use of 'field test kits' have helped
the villagers identify sources of safe tubewell water. But the real problem
the communication gap. People are in confusion what to do. Even officials
in Thana Health Complexes are unable to give proper advice.
Ruhul Amin who is also affected by the disease said, "We have stopped
using water from our tubewell and are using water from another tubewell
nearby. But what is to be done next? I have heard that there is no care
for the disease, is it true?" contents
November 10, 1997
Editorial: A Truly Good Turn
A dependable headway has been made in solving the problem of arsenic
contamination of ground water affecting almost a large part of our population.
The World Bank will co-ordinate a two-year study to identify the causes
of the contamination. Funded wholly by the British Department for International
Development, this 800,000-dollar project comes in the nick of time to plug
a big hole in Bangladesh's efforts to fight the arsenic threat to both
life and society. Without identifying the physical agents and processes
of the contamination, any action programme to minimise the danger must
be founded on quagmire.
This is not to say that the great work put in by the Dhaka Community
Hospital in identifying the affected patients in the districts and offering
them mitigation of pain and suffering is in any way less important. The
World Bank study would take two years and action based on that may take
another two. In the meantime more and more people in more and more areas
will continue to be affected by arsenic in drinking water. As long as the
contamination process is not stopped once for all hopefully in next five
years' time, what will happen to the thousands of victims? And who will
monitor the situation and enforce closure of contaminated tubewells and
motivate people in looking for alternative sources of potable water?
The answer that comes pat to mind is government. We have no doubt government.
Particularly the Public Health Engineering Department is taken up with
the job and some field work done by them has been useful. But the approach
so far has been to minimise the danger and act as if they wouldn't unless
Why is this so? If it is a big threat born of natural processes, why
should government want it to look small? The World Bank took the all important
step to investigate the causes and the money for that comes from Britain.
Why didn't our government do this all? And if the WB initiative would not
be forthcoming right at this time, which is already quit late, would the
government sit snugly without going for the study? contents
November 9, 1997
WB project to study origin of arsenic contamination
By Naimul Haq
An 800,000 US dollar project has been taken up to carry out geological,
hydrogeological and geotechnical studies on the origin of arsenic contamination
of ground water in the country, official sources said.
The World Bank is coordinating the project funded by the British Department
for International Development. The studies will be conducted by the British
Geological Survey (BGS).
"It would be a two-year programme consisting of two phases. The mission
of the project, scheduled to start by the last week of this month, is to
find out where from arsenic is coming. The proposed research programme
would be carried out in collaboration with Bangladesh Water Development
Board's Ground Water Circle, Geological Survey of Bangladesh, DPHE and
Dhaka and Rajshahi universities," said Babar N Kabir, Chief of WB's Water
and Sanitation Programme at its Dhaka office.
There are two phases of the research project. The first one would involve
a six-month initial assessment of the cause and extent of the problem and
would help the government and the WB in formulating auxiliary projects
for the second year of the 60 million dollar 'umbrella investment programme.'
The second phase would provide additional information to verify the source
and mechanism of mobilisation of arsenic.
The studies will help determine the feasibility of certain possible
long-term mitigation measures such as use of deep tubewells and the effect
of continued use of uncontaminated wells.
The field level data collection will involve drilling of wells in 30
districts up to a depth of about 300 metres for sediment analysis. Accordingly,
evaluation map would be prepared to give first-hand information for any
reference during the implementation of the proposed project.
"An engineer from UK is already in the city to evaluate the content
of the project," Kabir said.
Four people died of arsenic-related cancer and about 2,000 were reported
to have been affected following use of tubewell water contaminated by arsenic
in ground water in the country. Preliminary statistics, verified by Department
of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE), Unicef and Dhaka Community Hospital,
which is now working at field level to investigate 'patient identification,'
showed alarming pictures. This prompted the World Bank to initiate programmes
for immediate collection of information to support implementation of long-term
plans already designed.
Meanwhile, an initial assessment by the BGS concluded that the extent
of arsenic contamination in the country is 'potentially very large.' contents
November 2, 1997
2027 arsenic patients in country
Some 2,027 people have been identified as arsenic patients and about 65
million are at risk of contamination with the poisonous substance across
the country, reports UNB.
Four of the arsenic patients have so far died, two from arsenic-related
cancer, according to a survey conducted in 23 districts of the country.
This was disclosed at a press conference in the city organised by Dhaka
Community Hospital Trust yesterday.
Trustee Chairman Dr Quazi Quamruzzaman, Arsenic Specialist of Jadabpur
University in Calcutta Dr Dipankar Chakrabarty and Dr Saifur Islam spoke
at the conference. contents
Pilot project in 200 villages to fight
by Naimul Huq
An emergency government programme will be launched Thursday to provide
safe drinking water to the people of 200 of the villages worst affected
by arsenic contamination of ground water, according to official sources.
The programme will cover areas in 22 south-western districts including
Khulna, Bagerhat, Jessore and Kushtia and some parts of Narayanganj, Narsingdi,
Comilla and Chandpur where people have been identified with "symptoms of
chronic arsenic poisoning."
The programme will serve as a model one, and based on its experience,
a long-term programme will be formulated to address the "national disaster",
declared by the government in May. The 307,912 US dollar six-month programme,
financed by the UNDP, will be implemented jointly by the Department of
Occupational and Environmental Health (DOEH) and National Institute of
Prevention and Social Medicine (NIPSOM) with the help of the Health Directorate,
Dhaka Community Hospital local NGOs.
Talking to The Daily Star Project Director Dr AZM Iftikhar Hussain said,
"There are about 1800 confirmed cases of arsenicosis across the country
and a large number of people in at least 60 districts are in the risk of
being contaminated. It is a very sensitive issue. One should not panic
but understand the problem."
He said arsinocosis causes malonosis - a term used to describe soaring
of skin surface and mucous membrane. The ultimate result is tissue mutation
which may cause cancer, but not in all cases.
"As a matter of fact, arsinocosis starts long before it is actually
visible on the skin. It affects other organs of the body before finally
appearing on the skin. There is no treatment for such chronic disease but
it can be prevented by not using the contaminated water.
"Any successful result will depend on the feedback from multiple sources.
The most severe case so far detected is in Samta village of Jessore district
where an arsenic concentration of little over one milligram per liter (mg/1)
was found. In fact, arsenic concentration above 0.05 mg/1 is considered
"There is no device to free water from arsenic. If there was any way
of arsenic combustion with other molecules in water, the problem would
have greatly been removed," he explained. "But now we are recommending
diet rich in vitamin A, B and E which may prevent arsenic poisoning on
the skin. Extensive research will be conducted by collecting biopsies of
the skin, hair, nail and other tissues to find what actually causes the
Arsenic contamination of ground water was first detected in the country
in August last year following confirmation of investigations of water samples
at Jadavpur University in Calcutta, India. The university's Director of
School of Environmental Studies, Dr Dipankar Chakraborti, who is now in
the city told this correspondent yesterday, "The government should immediately
regulate the use of all deep and shallow tubewells which are causing widespread
contamination of arsenic in the villages. Limited use of ground water will
significantly help check the problem."
The programme will include door-to-door survey to find out affected
people and testing of all sources of water, hand tubewells, irrigation
wells, ponds and dug-wells. Tubewells supplying arsenic contaminated water
will be painted in red to identify those as 'unsafe' while those showing
no traces of arsenic would be painted in green to indicate 'safe' source
of water. Health camps will be set up and patients will be advised. An
information database will be compiled. People will be trained and given
chemical packets/filters. Fifteen teams, each comprising three groups,
will work in the areas.
The water samples collected from the areas will be tested in the four
laboratories of the Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE).
The Atomic Energy Commission will be responsible for the test. contents
October 28, 1997
Arsenic contamination detected in ground water of
MADARIPUR, Oct 20: Panic gripped over the Rajoir thana of the district
as arsenic contamination has been detected in ground water, reports UNB.
Local people informed that eight people, including five women, of Hridoy
Nandi Adarsha village in the thana have been affected by arsenic contamination.
They are - Zarina Begum, 25, Mahfuza Begum, 30, Akram Hossain, 22, Helena
Begum, 30, Sufia Begum, 30, Merukjan Bibi, 40, and Sheron Sheikh 25.
Condition of Mahfuza Begum is stated to be critical. Her hands and legs
have been affected by something like gangrene.
Meanwhile, a local NGO sent blood samples of many people to a laboratory
to test arsenic contamination.
People here alleged that Public Health Engineering Department did not
take any step in this matter and even they did not come to the thana to
see the condition of the affected people.
While contacted the Executive Engineer of the PHED told that he did
not get any information about the arsenic contamination in Rajoir thana.
But he did not rule out the possibility of arsenic contamination.
He also said arsenic contamination was detected in ground water after
examining tubewell water from every unions in Sadar thana. But they could
not identify the level of arsenic contamination in the water or to which
extent it is injurious to human body due to shortage of necessary appliances
Meanwhile, people have been advised to use tubewell water for their
household purpose after boiling properly. contents
Interview: 'Enough Food does Not
Ensure Food for all'
Dr. Mahabub Hossain, who served as director general of Bangladesh
Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) during 1989-92, is now head of
Social Sciences Division at the Manila-based International Rice Research
He needs no introduction even on the global plain when it come to his
area - agriculture.
A Visiting Scientist at the International Food Policy Research Institute
(IFPRI), Washington D.C. during 1985-87, he provided consultancy services
on many occasions to various international organisations including the
World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Labour Organisation,
Food and Agricultural Organisation and European Economic Commission.
Author of a number of books, highly commended and widely circulated,
Dr. Hossain is read by agricultural researchers and scholars throughout
the world. Green Revolution in Bangladesh: Impact on Growth and Income
distribution, Evaluation of the Grameen Bank, Development Impact of Rural
Infrastructure, Rethinking Rural Poverty, Rice research in Asia: Progress
and Priorities, Asian Rice Bowls: A Returning Crisis are just to name
a few. His book on Grameen Bank has been on high demand and reprinted six
times. Strategy of Development in Bangladesh, (co-author) is taught
as a text book in many universities. And there are more than 100 articles
in the highly acclaimed journals to his credit.
As the Advisor to the Agriculture Commission of Bangladesh, Dr. Mahabub
Hossain is now on a short visit to Dhaka. Dr Fahmida Akter, a BIDS
researcher, spoke to him on behalf of The Daily Star . Excerpts
follow: [only the question relating to groundwater exploitation is included
DS: Arsenic problem is thought to be the result of the use of
shallow tube wells for irrigation. If that is so, then don't you think
that we have to review our irrigation policy?
MH: I have not seen any study which really links the arsenic
problem with ground water use through shallow tubewells. Farmers are now
setting tubewells at deeper levels, which is an indication of the fact
that they are not getting as much water as they used to get earlier. Since
we use chemicals for agricultural production, some of those chemicals might
also seep through recharge if the ground water level goes down. This might
lead to deterioration in the water quality. If that happens there could
be other harmful toxic than arsenic. We should investigate this before
we come to any conclusion. But I agree with you that we have probably come
to a saturation level of the safe exploitation of ground water. There might
be severe environmental problems. As we depend on wells for drinking water,
there is a danger of severe health problem. We must rethink about the use
of water. May be we could think of finding ways to hold the surface water
during wet season through pumping from small channels and rivers for irrigation
in the dry season. contents
September 26, 1997
Arsenic detected in ground water in Rajshahi
RAJSHAHI, Sept 21: Arsenic was detected in ground water in the city. About
0.18 mg per litre arsenic was measured in ground water of Mahishbathan
in the city against the normal highest acceptable limit of 0.05 mg per
litre, local Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), sources said.
They measured it recently when a victim of arsenic Mohammad Mohadesh,
35, poisoning was detected on Sept 4. This is the first case of arsenic
poisoning in the city area. About a year before arsenic was found in ground
water in the district at many places outside the city. Chapainawabganj
area, adjacent to the district of Rajshahi is an endemic area of arsenic
Arsenic detected in water in Jhalakati
JHALAKATI, Sept 26 : High level arsenic contamination was found in waters
of four shallow tubewells in the district, according to a report of Public
Health Engineering Department, reports UNB.
The report reached here from the Khulna PHED regional laboratory showed
that water of four shallow tubewells in Nalchhiti, sadar and Rajapur thanas
contained arsenic above the acceptable level of 0.01 milligram. Water samples
from 12 shallow tubewells and one deep-tubewell of these thanas were sent
to the Khulna laboratory a few months back. contents
July 27, 1997
A UN body at a substantive session recommended that close attention be
given to the seriousness of arsenic contamination of drinking water supplies,
reports UNB. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations
in its session in Geneva from June 30 to July 25 also advised high attention
to adverse effects of persistent organic pollutants upon water and disposal
of toxic substances. Delegations at the ECOSOC meet made this recommendation
in its agreed conclusions on the coordination of policies and activities
of the specialised agencies and relevant bodies of the UN system related
to fresh water, including clean and safe water supply and sanitation. Bangladesh
highlighted the issue of arsenic contamination at the ECOSOC for support
of the UN system in addressing this major problem facing the country. In
his statement in the ECOSOC session, Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury,
Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN and leader of the Bangladesh
delegation, highlighted the adverse effects of arsenic contamination of
drinking water in Bangladesh. The UN body also strongly endorsed that people
living in poverty should be ensured microcredit to generate self-employment
and contribute to empowerment specially of women. It also emphasised strengthening
of institutions supportive of microcredit.
ECOSOC for high attention to arsenic problem
July 26, 1997
Contamination of arsenic in water of Kurigram
KURIGRAM, July 23: Arsenic contamination has been found in six tubewell
waters out of 10 of Rajarhat thana at Rajshahi Public Health Engineering
laboratory, reports UNB. According to the report of the laboratory, the
highest 0.42 miligram of arsenic content was detected in per litre water
of the tubewell owned by A Sattar Master of Taluksubal. The samples have
been sent there by the district administration. The sources said although
a senior chemist informed about the contamination in six tubewell waters
through a letter, only Sattar's tubewell has been sealed up and no measures
were taken about the other tubewells. When contacted, Deputy Engineer of
Public Health Abdul Latif admitted the matter and said they could not take
measures as they did not get any direction from the higher authorities.
The level of arsenic contamination found in different tubewell waters included
0.03 miligram in Sonarpara Jam-e-Mosque's tubewell, 0.18 miligram in Shah
Alam's tubewell at Nowdabos, 0.05 miligram in Thana Parisad's tubewell
and 0.03 miligram in residential quarter Padma's tubewell. contents
July 23, 1997
Netherlands keen to raise aid to Bangladesh
The Netherlands has shown keen interest to raise its assistance and cooperation
in Bangladesh rural infrastructures development particularly building up
cyclone shelters in coastal areas, rural housing projects and supply of
safe drinking water programmes in villages, reports UNB. This was disclosed
today while the visiting Netherlands Minister for Development Cooperation
Jan P Pronk who is leading a 12-member delegation called on State Minister
for LGRD and Cooperatives Alhaj Syed Abu Hossain at his secretariat office.
The Dutch Minister said the Netherlands Embassy in Dhaka and a team of
experts will jointly study the feasibility of rural infrastructures development
in the coastal areas to assist technical and financial support to Bangladesh
government in helping the rural poor.
The LGRD State Minister sought Dutch cooperation in surface water treatment
plant in Bangladesh instead of tubewell sinking due to arsenic contamination,
for supply of safe drinking water in rural areas.. The State Minister thanked
the Netherlands government for its continued support in previous years
for Bangladesh government's development efforts. He also apprised Jan P
Pronk the Bangladesh government's epoch-making steps in further decentralization
of local government bodies and rural development programmes. The Dutch
Minister lauded the role of local government commission's report for its
recommendation in decentralization of administration, said an official
handout. Local government secretary AHM Hye was present on the occasion.
July 21, 1997
40 Million at Risk: Needed Awareness Campaign
By Quamrul Islam Chowdhury
Forty million people in rural Bangladesh are now at risk of arsenic
poisoning. The number of patients seriously affected by arsenic in drinking
water has now risen to 1420. In early 1996, arsenic poisoning of ground
water was reported first from Bagerhat, Satkhira and Kushtia, all three
south-western Bangladesh districts bordering India. By now the scourge
has hit 19 rural districts along the border. Even bad news are pouring
on to the table of Health Ministry that adjacent rural areas surrounding
the capital city of Dhaka is arsenic-tainted. Stung by local newspaper
reports of farmers dying in their huts, Bangladesh officials admitted in
June 1997 that 40 million people - more than 30 per cent of the nation's
population - live in the arsenic-tainted area, a 500 kilometer swath of
golden paddies and steamy banana groves stretching between the Ganges river
and the Indian border. Given the vast coverage of this catastrophe, a resource-constraint
country like Bangladesh is therefore struggling to even capping arsenic-contaminated
tubewells across the rural areas. Poor villagers are at the receiving end.
Ill-equipped to deal with the scale of it, the nation is still uncertain
as to how to cope with this mass poisoning disaster. True, the government
is issuing warnings by radio and television. Three committees - arsenic
steering committee, scientific research committee and technical committee
- have been constituted to address the problem. A task force is being constituted
to run district-wise programmes. Despite the efforts of the government
and formation of these committees, mitigation measures are yet to be intensified.
Much of the rural Bangladesh has caught up in a panic. Members of the Forum
of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh [FEJB] were the first who did
break this bad news. Now FEJB members are trying to sensitize the officials
and policy makers about the gravity of the disaster and putting their efforts
in raising awareness among the rural community so that this panic can be
What is Arsenic? Arsenic is a white, semi-metallic powder found
in nature. Some of its compounds - arsenite and arsenate - are highly toxic
and can cause skin cancer, kidney and liver failure, respiratory problems
and in extreme cases, death. Other ailments include dark brown spots on
the body, thickening of the palms and feet, and warts on hands and legs.
Colourless, tasteless and naturally occurring in the sub-soils, the arsenic
has been seeping into the region's well water for a generation.
Experts feared that it might have been caused by excessive extraction
of ground water, toxic effluents of industries and overuse of toxic pesticides.
Some experts say the arsenic beneath the fertile river delta Bangladesh
was probably deposited eon ago after washing down from bodies of ore in
the Himalayas. As long as the arsenic compounds called arsenic sulfides
were submerged in ground water, they remained inert. But with the advent
of intensive irrigation in the 1960s, the aquifers have dropped, exposing
the poisons to oxygen for the first time.
The 'Teabag' Theory A new theory has emerged. Once oxidized,
arsenic sulfides become water-soluble. And like drops of tea seeping from
a teabag, they percolate from the subsoils into the dropping water tables
with every monsoon flood. As monsoons replenished the water table, the
arsenic seeped into the tubewells, which rural Bangladeshi people rely
on for drinking water. But, Bangladeshi water expert Amjad Husain Khan
observed that the arsenic contamination has originated in Indian state
of West Bengal neighbouring Bangladesh, particularly on the east side of
the Ganges-Bhagirathi contaminating ground water of Bangladesh. He said,
western border districts specially southern region of Bangladesh is vulnerable
to arsenic contamination because the sediments on both sides of the border
have the same depositional history and geological environment the region
being known as Ganges delta. Khan said, the aquifer of the contaminated
zone in West Bengal and that of the region within Bangladesh are hydrologically
connected. He said the ground water of the region along the south western
border belt of Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to arsenic contamination.
The first reports of arsenic contamination appeared in 1978 in West
Bengal in India. The initial theories that tried to explain the cause of
pollution were many. Such as results of use of insecticides and pesticides,
metal strainers in industrial effluents etc. But, subsequent studies proved
such theories as wrong. The School of Environmental Studies [SOES], Jadavpur
University, Calcutta, India started investigation in 1988 when sporadic
cases of arsenic poisoning began to be reported in West Bengal in India.
Their study said, for centuries, a 450-kilometer stretch of arsenic has
been lying in rich silt clay 70-200 feet below the surface in an area covering
about 35,000 square kilometers. No problem arose until the 1970s when farmers
of India began withdrawing huge amounts of ground water to irrigate summer
crops, triggering chemical changes in the soil. SOES scientists advise
that if catastrophe is to be averted, ground water pumping must be reduced
relying more on surface water use for irrigation. As water table falls,
pyrites - a mineral which holds the arsenic - begin to oxidise and leach
the poison, contaminating thousands of shallow wells in West Bengal in
India. Bangladesh is now hit by this mass poisoning sickening hundreds
of thousands of rural people.
Symptoms of Arsenic Poisoning. Physicians say the arsenic affected
person develops fatigue, nausea, severe leg and stomach cramps, wart-like
lesions on palms and soles of feet, skin and organ cancers and nerve disorders.
And so on. Clinical investigation into the cause of arsenic poisoning revealed
that the poor, already suffering from malnutrition, are the worst affected.
At the early stage of illness, an arsenic poisoned person is affected by
a variety of diseases including melanosis, keratitis, conjunctivitis, bronchitis
and gastroenteritis. Peripheral neuropathis and hepatopathy are the next
stages of this poisoning. At the final stage gangrene in the limbs and
malignancy in neoplasm lead the poisoned person to death.
Bangladesh Situation. National Institute of Preventive and Social
Medicine [NIPSOM] Dhaka have tested in December 1996, 1000 samples of tubewell
water in 17 rural districts and found arsenic in 180 such samples. By June
1997 the number of affected districts rose to 19 out of another sample
drawn from 24 districts. The arsenic toxicity in the water of the 17 affected
rural districts - Bagerhat, Khulna, Satkhira, Jessore, Jhenidah, Chuadanga,
Meherpur, Kushtia, Pabna, Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Narayanganj, Faridpur,
Rajbari, Chandpur, Laxmipur, and Noakhali - is 25 to 35 times higher than
the safety level set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Permissible
level of arsenic in water is 0.05 ppm, according to experts. Bangladesh
Energy Commission found the level of arsenic at between 1.5 and 2 ppm in
tubewell waters in districts bordering with West Bengal of India. The situation
is so worsening that even dangerous level of arsenic toxicity was found
in the water of a tubewell of Bangladesh Health Minister Salauddin Yusuf's
village home in Khulna. This tubewell has already been sealed by the district
Public Health Engineering Department. The number of arsenic poisoned tubewells
is on the rise creating a panic across this rural belt.
Dhaka Community Hospital (DCH) has been conducting research works on
it. The result of their investigation shows that the number of arsenic
affected people is horrifying. Public health is in jeopardy in areas where
arsenic poisoning is extensive. DCH conducted its research on arsenic poisoning
among residents in four villages under Ishurdi thana of Pabna district,
eight villages and legalities of Kushtia district and one village of Meherpur
Water samples collected from the arsenic infected areas of the country
contained more than normal percentage of arsenic. The results of the tests
shows that 28 per cent of the affected people have more than 100 to 1500
per cent arsenic in their urine, 47 per cent have eight to 20 times in
their nails and 98 per cent have 100 to 15,000 per cent more than normal
arsenic in their skin. Twenty per cent of water samples contained arsenic
which is 100 to 900 per cent more than the allowable quantity. Dhaka Community
Hospital screened 920 patients suffering from skin diseases of whom 150
were suspected to have been suffering from arsenic poisoning. Samples of
urine, nails, hair and skin were collected from 95 of those 105 patients.
Water samples from 41 tubewells were also collected from the arsenic affected
areas. These samples were examined at the Bangladesh Centre for Scientific
Investigation and Research (BCSIR) and the laboratory of the School of
Environmental Science of the Jadavpur University, West Bengal, India.
Social Fallout. As the mysterious sores first appeared on Anil
Chandra Das's work-toughened hands, the grizzled rice farmer of Noapara,
long hardened against the aches and pains of life in rural Bangladesh,
just ignored them. But, the lesions didn't go away. Instead, the small
purplish scabs on his palms began cracking and bleeding. Then the headaches
started, accompanied by chest congestion and stomach cramps. And finally,
last March, the man whom neighbours remember for his breezy storytelling,
lapsed into a deathly silence. "He just laid in bed all day and we looked
into his eyes. Then one day he didn't open his eyes any more. And we all
began to cry," said Ila Rani Das, 16, Anil's daughter. Fighting tears,
Ila recalled how her eldest brother, Shyamol, 20, died in August of the
same grim symptoms. She held up her palms, the purple sores were there.
She is not alone.
The social fallout is creating havoc. Amina Begum, 35, a victim who
developed dark brown spot on her skin is socially shunned. She is not also
alone. Girls with such spots are unable to find husbands, married women
showing signs of arsenic poisoning are often sent back to their parents
by their in-laws, young men are refused jobs in rural areas. It happens
over the heads of most of the villagers plagued by the epidemic - men like
Abdus Samad, 33, who lost both his home and social status to arsenic. "My
parents told me one day to leave home when I got sick," recalled Samad,
a sad, wiry man whose hands and feet are still cracked with sores months
after drinking from safe, arsenic-free well. Shunned, his wife and he built
a tin-roofed hut on remote corner of his father's property. "Everybody
thinks it might be contagious, like leprosy," Samad said bitterly. "I washed
my plates in boiling water for nothing."Rasheda K Chowdhury, Chairperson
of Environment and Development Alliance said, the life of entire rural
community has been affected by this catastrophe. She emphasized on the
need for intensifying the government and non-government measures to avert
this scourge of arsenic poisoning that experts say has no equal in medical
Mitigation. Because arsenic poisoning often takes months or years
to become lethal or debilitating, it can be easily misdiagnosed. If diagnosed
early, mild symptoms can be relieved by drinking clean water. Continued
exposure to contaminated water can be fatal. Kits that could filter arsenic
out of the water cost almost a month's income for many in Bangladesh. The
means to pipe in clean water could cost crores and take years to build.
Health Minister Salauddin Yusuf said his government has identified arsenic
pollution as a national problem and is determined to solve it. He emphasised
the need for joint action in this regard by other concerned ministries
along with his one and said an extensive programme has been undertaken
by his ministry at field level in the arsenic-tainted areas. He said that
his government has taken measures to contain arsenic contamination through
identification of patients, treatment, follow-up programmes, supplying
pure drinking water, training doctors and creating awareness. But implementation
in reality at the affected village level is yet to be geared up. Despite
the Health Minister's call, a Taka 20 million project, undertaken jointly
by the government and the UNICEF to conduct a survey in the arsenic affected
areas across the country is yet to take off.
Health Secretary Muhammad Ali said a preliminary survey to identify
arsenic affected patients has been conducted in 17 different rural districts
of Bangladesh. He said instructions have been given to the Department of
Public Health and Engineering to supply arsenic pollution free water in
the affected areas. Besides, he said, instructions have also been given
to test the tubewell water locally in every district.
Stressing on the need for undertaking preventive measures against arsenic
toxicity, Dr Abdul Wadud Khan of NIPSOM said, his department has already
developed a filter to purify arsenic contaminated water.
There is no definite cure for arsenic poisoning but uncontaminated water
and nutritious food over a period of time nurture sufferers back to health.
Unfortunately, there are few alternative water supplies in the affected
districts and most of the people in the area can't afford nutritious food.
Dr Mujibul Huq, Head of Dermatology Department, Dhaka Medical College
Hospital said, with proper medication and access to pure drinking water,
arsenic-affected patients can be cured but it is important to take advice
from the experts at the early stage. Medicine for this is scarce now and
steps have been taken to make those available, he added.
Water Development Board geologist Mizanur Rahman suggested rainwater
harvest as a preventive. Storage and utilization of rainwater is a low-cost
technology to counter arsenic contamination in the water, Rahman said.
It is particularly pertinent to the monsoon season. A daily consumption
can not be met with small filters, the government should take up a crash
programme for mobilizing mass awareness. Rahman expressed his concern regarding
disposal of the arsenic waste gathered in the filters. If the arsenic waste
is randomly disposed, this can create further havoc through contamination
of drains, ponds and other water bodies. Another blunder is to be avoided:
don't simply sink the tubewells deeper to tap fresh water from a lower
level. If you sink a tubewell deeper, this could serve to contaminate the
pure water below.
The cast of characters in the emerging health disaster includes armies
of quack doctors who prey on the poisoned victims, knowing that arsenic
has no real cure other than switching to clean drinking water.
Conclusion Once one of our paramount leaders, Moulana Abdul Hamid
Khan Bhasani warned the proponents of the Green Revolution about the danger
of over extraction of ground water. The policy-makers in 1960s did not
pay heed to the warning of the wise old man whose words now come true.
The Green Revolution is no more a hero. It has turned into a villain. By
drilling hundreds of thousands of expensive tubewells to irrigate its high-yielding
crops during the dry season, scientists now say the government has unwittingly
exposed millions of its rural people to naturally occurring poisons in
the ground water. There is no time to the decision-makers to lapse. They
have to now act, act and act. They have to avert this mass poisoning.
The general secretary of Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh,
the writer is a senior correspondent of BSS and a leading environment activist.
This is a specially prepared version for The Daily Star of the report presented
at the ESCAP sponsored Regional Workshop on Promotion of Environmental
Awareness in Rural Communities held at Bangkok on June 30-July 2, 1997.
July 18, 1997
Editorial: Fight Against Arsenic
A WHO-organised consultation meeting held in New Delhi
has come up with a set of recommendations for tackling the problem of arsenic
contamination. Apart from suggesting immediate treatment for people affected
by arsenic poisoning, it calls for providing safe water or identifying
sources of such water for people in the arsenic-prone areas. Experts have
acknowledged a few water treatment methods developed domestically to free
water from arsenic. Their request for WHO assistance to test the efficacy
of those methods is worth considering.
What could, however, prove decisive in our fight against arsenic contamination
is the setting up of a national reference laboratory for testing the quality
of water through a comprehensive site investigation. Water samples have
to be collected from all over the country for measuring their arsenic content.
The experts rightly recommend for developing a database on arsenic in drinking
water. On the basis of this, the need for drinking water in different areas
could be assessed and remedial measures taken.
This is key to a management information system. So the government must
move fast to tackle this problem. Hydrological surveys, as suggested, might
help identify underground aquifers free from arsenic contamination. The
government with help from UN agencies should take up such projects because
they are beyond the capacity of private individuals. contents
July 17, 1997
Regional experts suggest urgent steps to tackle
Arsenic International experts have termed the contamination of underground
water by arsenic in Bangladesh as a major public health hazard and suggested
the government to tackle it on an "emergency basis," reports UNB. "Immediate
relief on emergency basis should be provided through supply of safe drinking
water to all those affected or at risk because of the current exposure,"
recommended a consultation meeting organised by WHO in New Delhi.
International experts on arsenic and policy-makers from India and Bangladesh
at the meeting also suggested immediate action to treat the people suffering
from arsenic poisoning. The consultation meeting, organised by WHO's South
East Asia Regional Office (SEARO), recommended formation of well-equipped
task forces to identify and address patients with arsenic poisoning, said
a WHO press release yesterday. The meeting's "recommendations for action,"
prepared to provide a policy guideline to the national authorities in Bangladesh
and India, were made available this week.
The experts observed that public health personnel and NGO staff in the
areas having arsenic problems should be trained for rapid case identification
and management. "Tubewell water in the locality where patients have been
detected should be tested in order to ensure safe water and prevent further
exposure to arsenic for those who are at risk," according to the recommendations.
The meeting said supply of safe water could be ensured by identifying sources
of safe water or by treating surface water that was not contaminated, removing
arsenic from contaminated water and harvesting rain waters. The experts
acknowledged a number of domestic and community water treatment methods
developed recently to remove arsenic in drinking water. But they called
for WHO's assistance in reviewing and evaluating the efficiency of these
arsenic removal technology.
The meeting emphasised the need for mass communication campaigns to
raise public awareness about the effects of arsenic contamination and ways
to get arsenic-free water. It said comprehensive site investigations and
private water sources should be carried out to find the presence or absence
of arsenic. It also recommended for setting up of a national reference
laboratory and surveillance of water quality. As a long-term objective,
the experts recommended that national data bases on arsenic in drinking
water need to be strengthened and a comprehensive management information
system be established to facilitate monitoring, better planning and implementation
of programmes. They also suggested the government to undertake hydro-geological
surveys in order to identify underground aquifers. contents