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Article From News From Bangladesh archives

Arsenic contamination sharply cuts access to safe water

The existing figure of about 97 per cent access to safe drinking water in Bangladesh should be revised in view of arsenic contamination of tubewells.

Colin J Davis, Chief, Water and Environmental Sanitation, Unicef Dhaka observed this while exchanging views with some journalists yesterday. He said the tubewells that were contaminated with arsenic beyond acceptable limits, cannot as supply safe water.

Morten Giersing, Unicef Representative in Bangladesh was present. In the last five decades the tubewells helped reach bacteria-free water to all corners of Bangladesh, he said.

He said that DPHE and Unicef found 65 per cent of tubewells in 45 upazilas among those most affected by arsenic contamination and not safe for drinking. Based on this, access to safe water in these upazilas is now only 35 per cent, he said.

About 90 lakh people in the 45 upazilas have been found to be at risk of arsenic contamination, he said. These upazilas covered by Unicef and DPHE are from 265 upazilas that have been identified as ‘hot-spots’ in respect of the arsenic menace under the Bangladesh Arsenic Mitigation Water Supply Project.

There are about 8,000 possible cases of arsenicosis in these upazilas at a prevalence rate of about one out of every thousand people. More cases are not found because there is a window period between prolonged intake of contaminated water and development of arsenicosis. There thus was an opportunity to prevent arsenicosis by ensuring the supply of safe water from now onwards, he said.

He said that tubewells now found arsenic free and considered safe for use by people, should be tested once every year, because due to geological changes the chemical content of water might change over time.

He said that the European standard was to test ground water used for drinking, once every month. Recent field tests have shown that groundwater has not only arsenic but also uranium and barium, among others, in some areas.

Colin said that the University of Dhaka and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Australia, are at the final stage of an advanced research to determine the extent to which some vegetables found having arsenic did collect in the human body or got released by natural processes.

Unicef Bangladesh is supporting the research. Colin said that they believed the arsenic concentration in some vegetables was due to the use of arsenic contaminated water to cultivate those.

Unicef sources said that shrimp also has arsenic concentrations but bio-availability of arsenic consumed with shrimp is negligible. ( The Independent )

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