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Article From News From Bangladesh archives


Arsenic shrinks safe water access - 20 Feb 2003

By Naimul Haq

High percentage of arsenic-affected tubewells in rural areas has shrunk overall access to safe drinking water. According to available statistics, 75 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water now, down from 97 per cent in 1997. Whereas the national water policy requires one 'safe water point' for every fifty people, the ratio now is 100 to one.

Sources say 3,571 out of 109,022 deep tubewells that can supply safe drinking water are now out of order. Also, 45,025 out of 1,057,267 hand-pumped tubewells are inoperative. The percentage of arsenic-affected tubewells is more than 90 in Chandpur, Narayanganj, Noakhali, Laxmipur and Chapainawabganj, and between 20 and 40 in Faridpur, Gopalganj, Comilla, Jessore, Khulna, Barisal, Rajshahi, Natore and Naogaon.

In one Chandpur upazila, Hajiganj, all the tubewells are contaminated. On average, there are some 30,000 tubewells in one upazila. Presence of arsenic in groundwater beyond the World Health Organisation standard was first detected in 1993. Three years later, the government declared arsenic contamination a national disaster.

Twenty-nine per cent of some 1.2 million tubewells the Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE) installed are arsenic-contaminated. Alternative arrangements for safe drinking water in the affected areas, provided by the government, are mostly insignificant and confined to a few families. Although the government encourages use of surface water, filtered with locally developed technique, and water from wells, people find it inconvenient and revert to the tubewell water despite arsenic contamination.

Meanwhile in 1998-99, the DPHE and the British Geological Survey detected high levels of uranium, manganese, boron, sulphur, fluoride, molybdenum, barium and phosphorus in groundwater samples from 61 districts. "We don't have laboratories facility now to test water for these chemicals," DPHE Executive Engineer Ihtishamul Huq told The Daily Star.

In Dhaka city, low levels of arsenic, antimony, boron, cadmium, nickel, chromium, molybdenum and uranium have also been detected in piped water. "If you consider the DPHE-BGS report and recent surveys on tubewells, groundwater in only a few areas in the northern districts are free from chemical poisoning," said an expert.

"The fact is, the government machinery has no system to determine the number of arsenic-contaminated tubewells. They are just relying on estimates that have no relevance," observed another. (The Daily Star)



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