The number of tube wells with excessive amounts of arsenic in the country has decreased by half in the past 20 years. However, there’s still excessive arsenic in the water of 14 per cent tube wells in the country.
This was revealed in a survey done on the standard limits of arsenic in the country’s tube wells by the department of public health engineering (DPHE).
Public health experts say, there’s a difference between international and national standards regarding how much arsenic found in a litre of water can be considered safe.
The survey was conducted based on the government fixed standards. The number of tube wells with arsenic will increase even further if it’s done based on World Health Organization (WHO)’s standards.
It’s learned from DPHE sources that arsenic in country’s tube wells was tested in 2003. Back then excessive arsenic was found in 29 per cent tube wells of the country.
There were no surveys in two decades after that. Therefore, it cannot be comprehended how many tube wells in the country have more arsenic than the tolerable limit.
DPHE had taken up a project titled ‘Arsenic Risk Reduction Project on Water Supply’ back in 2019. Except for ten districts including the Chittagong Hill Tract districts, arsenic is present more or less in the remaining 54 districts.
Whether arsenic is present in the water of the tube wells in those 54 districts of the country, has been tested under this project.
It’s learnt through sources related to the project that tube wells in 3,200 unions of the country were tested from the middle of 2021 to September, 2022.
From testing more than 5.4 million (5,430,880) tube wells, arsenic more than the fixed limit was found in 755 thousand (755,548) tube wells. In terms of percentage this amounts to 13.91 per cent.
Director of the project Bidhan Chandra Dey told Protghom Alo, the condition of arsenic contamination has improved quite a lot in the past two decades. Shallow tube wells have reduced in numbers. And, people are a lot more aware of arsenic than before.
As per the standard set by Bangladesh government, if there’s more arsenic than 0.05 milligrams per liter of water, it cannot be used for drinking or cooking purposes.
The survey showed that highest 52.57 per cent tube wells in Gopalganj district have excessive amount of arsenic in them.
In addition, excessive arsenic was found in 51.35 percent tube wells of Chandpur, 44.91 per cent of Cumilla, 40.85 per cent of Satkhira and 34.22 per cent tube wells of Lakshmipur district.
The lowest number of arsenic contaminated tube wells was found in Dinajpur, Mymensingh, Naogaon, Natore, Rangpur and Gazipur districts.
Basically, arsenic is a type of chemical element. There’s always a small amount of arsenic in water. When this level exceeds the usual limit, symptoms of various diseases appear in the human body.
In the 1960s, WHO fixed the tolerable limit of arsenic in water at 0.05 milligram per litre. Later, it was reduced down to 0.01 milligram in 1993.
Bangladesh however didn’t change that standard from 1963. As per the standard set by Bangladesh government, if there’s more arsenic than 0.05 milligrams per liter of water, it cannot be used for drinking or cooking purposes.
The arsenic situation in the country should have been better. Even if one per cent tube wells become arsenic free every year, it will take 14 more years to resolve the issue.Khairul Islam, regional director of WaterAid in South Asia
Those who are diagnosed with arsenic poisoning in their bodies, are labeled as ‘arsenicosis’ patients. The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) doesn’t have any updated information on the number of people suffering from arsenicosis in the country or the state of their treatment.
According to the information of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s cluster survey from 2019, 11.8 per cent people of the country drinks arsenic mixed water. In that sense, around 20 million people are drinking water with arsenic.
The manifesto of Awami League-led grand alliance government before the national parliament elections of 2008 had stated that resolving the arsenic issue safe potable water supply would be ensured for all by 2011.
Regional director of private organisation WaterAid in South Asia Khairul Islam believes the arsenic situation in the country should have been better. He told Prothom Alo, even if one per cent tube wells become arsenic free every year, it will take 14 more years to resolve the issue.
Arsenic decontamination activities have to be accelerated. Then a survey has to be done based on global standards. The health department does not keep track of arsenicosis patients. But, these patients need to be identified, he said.