All must get safe water

Published : 21 Jan 2024 09:53 PM

Integrated efforts of all government and non-government organisations and individuals concerned can be the effective means of supplying arsenic-free safe drinking water among the rural people in the country.

The climate crisis will put tens of millions of Bangladeshis at heightened risk of cancer from contaminated well water, reports The Guardian citing a study published in the scientific journal PLOS on January 17. Scientists say sea level rises, flooding and extreme weather will accelerate release of arsenic into water supply in our country. 

It is indeed a matter of grave concern for all us. There is no alternative to taking immediate measures to this end.

Sea level rises, unpredictable flooding and extreme weather caused by the climate heating up will accelerate the release of dangerous levels of arsenic into the country’s drinking water. The result will be an intensification of a public health crisis already gripping the country, where millions have skin, bladder and lung cancers as a result of arsenic poisoning.

Chronic arsenic poisoning from drinking water is a real problem, not a theoretical exercise. The origins of the arsenic water contamination crisis date back to the 1970s, when Bangladesh had one of the world’s highest rates of infant mortality due to polluted surface water.

UN aid agencies and NGOs sponsored a vast programme of deep tube well boring to provide clean water for domestic use, crop irrigation and fish farming. The new wells reduced rates of infant deaths by curtailing the spread of waterborne diseases, but by the 1990s it became clear that water drawn from sedimentary rocks beneath Bangladesh contained high levels of naturally occurring arsenic.

The first case of chronic arsenic poisoning from drinking well water was diagnosed in Bangladesh in 1993 and the World Health Organization would go on to describe it as the “largest mass poisoning of a population in history”.

Climate crisis will put tens of millions of Bangladeshis at the

heightened risk of cancer from 

contaminated well water

Arsenic is naturally occurring, and it’s washed down the sediments from the Himalayan uplift. So, all the sediments from the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna, Irrawaddy, and Mekong river basins are rich in naturally occurring arsenic.

It was not a problem when people drank surface water, because the surface water is in communication with the oxygen in the atmosphere and that makes the arsenic insoluble and removes it from the water. 

But the deep well water does not communicate as well with the oxygen in the atmosphere. And that is why all of a sudden giving people access to these deep water wells has been a tremendous public health crisis. Chronic arsenic poisoning leads to a build-up of arsenic inside the bodies of those affected.  It manifests externally through keratinisation of skin on the palms and the soles of the feet. Similar processes are also under way inside, and deposits gather in their lungs and other internal organs, causing cancers. On the other hand, there is an acute shortage of potable water in different places of the country including the vast tract of Barind area during the dry season and the problem has become more acute for the last couple of years. 

Therefore, the government will have to take more projects to bring all the households under safe and arsenic-free drinking water supply coverage as early as possible. Only then people living in remote villages will get safe drinking water, which will help improve general health condition of the beneficiaries and protect them from diseases like cancer. We believe Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government will do everything whatever necessary in this regard. So, the grassroots people will get safe drinking water round-the-year.