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Brief History of Arsenic in Bangladesh


Small bodies of waters like these dot the Bangladesh country side.  They used to be main source of drinking water until source shifted to wells with hand pumps.

After forming a new nation in 1971, in the 1970s and 1980s, the goverment and many non-govermental oranizations (NGOs) saw the need to switch away from drinking untreated surface water, which carried many water-related diseases, such as cholera.  These were killing people, especially infants and small children, at very high rates.

The shallow aquifer underlying most of the country seemed like a good alternate source, to be tapped by shallow tube wells.  Arsenic was not commonly tested for then.  However, starting in 1993, arsenic was found in many of these wells.  The arsenic rushed down from the high Himalayas in large rivers that entered Bangladesh, where the arsenic settled.


Visual: Human Rights Watch

Eventually it was found in very high levels over much of the south (and parts of the north, but is less serious there).  It is also a very serious problem in parts of West Bengal, India, to the west of Bangladesh.  It is true that arsenic poisoning is a serious problem in some other parts of the world, but none are so severe and affect as many people as in Bangladesh and West Bengal

For a time, arsenic was the number one issue getting attention in Bangladesh. However, interest in the problem and numbers of organizations assisting have dropped off in the last 15 years for various reasons, including lack of funding.  It is a  quiet problem with no smell or taste from arsenic laden water.  This makes the problem easy to ignore.

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