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Article From News From Bangladesh archives

Govt to promote rainwater as solution to arsenic

After prolonged deliberation at different levels, the government has decided to promote rainwater harvesting as the interim option to arsenic contaminated ground waters before unveiling sustainable solution to the problem, local government ministry sources said.

Sources said the government would soon launch a countrywide massive campaign for harvesting, preserving and drinking rainwater, which would not only keep people free from further accumulation of arsenic but also cut down the level of concentration of the poison in their bodies.

"If arsenic affected persons drink rainwater regularly in the rainy season they could get better from arsenicosis," AYBI Siddiqi, Secretary of the Local Government Division (LGD) quoted physicians as saying.

"The national committee on arsenic has reviewed all the expert recommendations, but eventually we found rainwater as the most available, time-suiting and safest source of drinking water," he told BSS.

Arsenic is a chemical contamination in the underground water levels and has posed serious threat to drinking waters for millions since its detection in 1993.

The government campaign for rainwater consumption, he said, is also aimed at making people aware of the terrible consequences of indiscriminate uses of underground waters, specially drawn from the shallow tubewells, for drinking purposes.

Concerned secretaries at a recent meeting decided to promote rainwater as an urgent and most available solution to arsenic for the time being as well as to provide supports to harvesting rainwater both at urban and rural areas.

The Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE) has already marked 20 highly arsenic contaminated villages of five divisions for equipping those with rainwater preserving facilities to popularise the system gradually across the country, sources said.

Appreciating the government's move, Chairman of Dhaka Community Hospital (DCH) Prof Kazi Kamruzzaman said, "The initiative that has been taken by the government is praiseworthy. We are happy to see that the government has put emphasis on use of surface water, for which we have been fighting for long."

Rainwater, which is available in Bangladesh for at least four months, got priority among all the proposed temporary options recommended by water experts at two international seminars on arsenic mitigation in Dhaka mainly because of its availability and cheap harvesting cost, sources said.

The water experts, who suggested imposing an immediate ban on use of underground waters for drinking purposes in the affected areas, recommended waters of dug wells, deep tubewells, rivers, ponds and rainwaters as the possible options for millions of 286 arsenic affected upazilas across the country.

The government dropped other options due to high cost of surface water treatment and difficulties in digging out wells. Deep tubewells were, however, allowed to sink in a limited scale only in the coastal areas where the thick clay layer between two aquifers is not less than 10 metres, sources said. Thick clay layer protects safe aquifers from contamination.

Sources said the government under its emergency mitigation programme would provide one alternative source of safe drinking water for each villages or wards where more than 80 per cent tubewells were detected arsenic contaminated after screening.

As part of the emergency programme the administration and public representatives of the highly contaminated area have been asked to provide one alternative source immediately after the survey.

The government suggested excavation of a pond in a highly contaminated village if digging out of well and other options become difficult there, local government ministry sources said. The government is now providing arsenic alternatives to a number of villages in 41 upazilas across the country, LGD official said.

He said screening of all the tubewells in 60 upazilas has already been completed and survey in another 147 upazilas will start soon. He also said that 99 per cent tubewells of some villages of the worst affected areas like Chandpur and Shariatpur found highly contaminated. (BSS)

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