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Article From News From Bangladesh archives

Water watch protocol finalized - By Naimul Haq, 13 May 2003

In a big step forward to fight the dreaded arsenic contamination of groundwater, the long awaited 'water quality surveillance protocol for rural water supply options in Bangladesh' has been finalised. Already approved by the local government ministry, the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) would start implementing the protocol shortly, officials said yesterday. The protocol provides for monitoring and periodic tests of water quality in various drinking water options.

The DPHE would conduct tests to detect arsenic, iron, manganese, chloride, nitrate, zinc, hardness, colour, odour, pH (acidity), electric conductivity and turbidity. The protocol also recommended tests for bacteria and pesticide in water. In cases of water options like pond sand filter and rainwater harvesting (RWH), the protocol suggests tests for arsenic and nitrate every six and three months respectively. For iron, manganese and chloride, it recommended tests every six months, for pesticide once a year and for bacteria, colour and odour investigations every 15 days.

For other water options like hand-pumped tube-wells, deep tube-wells, arsenic removal plants and dug wells, frequency of tests would vary from three to six months. In many areas, concentration of arsenic, iron, manganese, chloride and nitrate in water exceeds the WHO-recommended limits, exposing people to serious health hazards. Till now, regular tests could be conducted largely due to inadequacy of laboratories and fund crisis.

Three laboratories for water tests are now being set up in Barisal, Rangpur and Sylhet. Besides, the existing four has been modernised with technical assistance from WHO. Under the new protocol, water samples from hand-pumped tube-wells and deep tube-wells will be collected from different areas and tested at the laboratories. Similar tests will also be done before sinking deep tube-wells. A member of the task force, which finalised the protocol, said, "This is for the first time the country will have a set standard for water quality."

The protocol however ignores tests for certain chemicals -- uranium, barium, molybdenum, antimony, cadmium and chromium -- already detected in groundwater in many areas at levels more than the WHO-recommended limits. Officials said such tests were not recommended now due to lack of facilities but would be done in future.

According to a countrywide study by the DPHE and the British Geological Survey (BGS), an alarming proportion of inorganic chemicals like uranium, manganese, boron, sulphur, fluoride, phosphorus remains in groundwater in many places. The study concluded that 35 per cent of the water samples collected from hand-pumped tube-wells in 61 districts showed arsenic contamination beyond the WHO-recommended limits. Other studies initiated in 1998-1999 revealed various levels of contamination of groundwater, in some cases very high. (The Daily Star)

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