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Article From News From Bangladesh archives

Give us pure drinking water, cry villagers - 85 pc tubewells in Manikganj union contain arsenic poison

GOPINATHPUR (Manikganj), May 6:–Give us pure drinking water but don't advise us if you cannot give arsenic free tubewells," people of Gopinathpur union of Manikganj district said, reports BSS.

Gopinathpur union is a severely arsenic-affected area in Manikganj district. About 85 per cent tube wells in the area are marked with red paint to warn that their waters are contaminated by arsenic, Sohrab Ali Akand, Chairman of the union, said.

Fifteen persons have been affected by arsenic and hundreds of people are at risk of arsenic poisoning in this area, he added.

Besides suffering from the effects of the disease, the people attacked with arsenicosis are also facing serious social problems. They are neglected or even hated by others as it is wrongly thought that the disease is infectious.

According to a survey report, 50 million people of the country are at risk of chronic arsenic poisoning. Out of the total arsenic-related patients, 60 per cent are women and children. Many women who have been affected by arsenicosis were divorced or abandoned by their husbands.

Some people of the union are aware of the arsenic problem. They know about the usefulness of rainwater harvesting. But it is very difficult to hold the rainwater clean as insects grow in it after some days, they said.

A few have also started the three-pitcher filter system for obtaining pure water. But they said this system works very slow and they have no time to maintain this.

Tube wells marked with green colour, meaning their water is safe, are installed on school ground or health complexes that are far from the houses of rural people. So, many of them are to bring water from the danger marked red tubewells.

General awareness level of arsenic contamination is very low in the union, as elsewhere in Bangladesh. Lack of awareness about the arsenic hazards is still a big problem. As arsenic has no taste or smell, people frequently use the water of arsenic contaminated tubewells. At some places, the red paint has been wiped out from the tubewells. Growing people's awareness in this context needs the highest priority by any means.

Contamination of tube well waters with arsenic was first reported in early 1996 from Bagerhat, Satkhira and Kushtia. In December 1999, officials admitted that some 80 million people, i.e., more than 65 per cent of the country's population, live in the arsenic-tainted areas.

To provide safe drinking water the government and aid agencies had earlier installed tube wells across the country but now the once life-sustaining tube wells have become the bane for millions of people.

Inhabitants of the union demand arsenic-free tubewells for their safety. They become angry when they see health workers or outsiders coming to advise them. They say only after arsenic-free tube wells have been installed, they would talk to them.

Many ponds are dried up here because of low water level in under ground. Water bodies in the union are also not safe for drinking as these are used for bathing, washing, etc. Sometimes people wash their cattle in the surface water. So, the water becomes dirty.

The hazards of arsenic-contaminated water are known to most of the people, but as arsenic is a silent killer, they do not take it seriously. Those who are not directly affected, do not yet know the extent of the problem.

This is, more or less, the picture of all the rural areas of the country. The programme of alternative water supply has been taken by the government and NGOs but that is not sufficient. The government should take some more measures to ensure supply of pure drinking water, the villagers said. (BSS)

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