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Article From News From Bangladesh archives

Arsenic spells danger for millions of Nepalis - 11 Jan 2003

AFP, Kathmandu

Millions of Nepalis are at risk from diseases caused by drinking water contaminated with the poison arsenic, doctors say. The problem is affecting the Terai lowlands, home to 47 percent of Nepal's 22.3 million people. "People are suffering from skin and other serious diseases due to drinking underground unfiltered water laced with arsenic in the Terai region, adjoining the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh," said Roshan Man Shrestha, a doctor with the Public Health Concern Centre non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Some 90 percent of the people living in the region use the underground water pumped to the surface by shallow tubewells. A survey of Terai's 20 districts from 1997-2001 by the Public Health Services NGO, along with experts from the UN children's agency, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), found the water's arsenic levels failed WHO standards.

"Out of some 200,000 shallow tubewells constructed along the tropical region, tests on about 20,000 tubewells have been conducted," Public Health Concern Centre official Prasant Chaudhary told AFP. "After the tests, the amount of 0.01 milligrams to 0.05 milligrams of arsenic per litre was detected in the underground water," Chaudhary said.

The permissible limit for arsenic in Nepal, as well as in India, China and Bangladesh is 0.05 milligrams per litre. But the WHO's limit is 0.01 milligrams. "If anybody drinks the water containing arsenic for about 10 years, he begins to have a serious health problem like skin diseases, deafness, blindness or even liver cancer and weakening of the bones," Chaudhary said. Ram Sharan Duwadi, of the government's Public Health Department, said villagers in the Terai often complained of dizziness and hearing problems which could be attributed to arsenic in the water.

Research on arsenic poisoning first began in Nepal in 1999 following similar cases in the neighbouring Indian states of Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh as well as in Bangladesh. More than a dozen arsenic-poisoning investigation units are in operation in Nepal, although the exact number of people affected is not known. "As such incidents are comparatively recent, most people are ignorant about the matter," said Shrestha. ( AFP/ The Daily Star )

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