Nearly 20 million Bangladeshis are still drinking water poisoned with high levels of arsenic despite millions of wells being tested and hundreds of thousands of safe ones having been bored to avert a major health crisis, a new report has suggested.
The lack of progress in improving what the UN’s World Health Organisation called “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history” in the 1990s is blamed on government nepotism, rich country neglect and NGOs losing sight of the problem, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Latest estimates suggest 43,000 people in Bangladesh die each year from arsenic-related diseases. These include skin lesions, cancers, and cardiovascular and lung illnesses.
According to the government, 5 million village wells were tested between 2000-03, with pumps painted red or green according to whether they were safe or unsafe. In 2003, an estimated 20 million people drank arsenic-laced water.
But, says the report, all urgency to address the problem has disappeared and the rate of contamination is now much the same as it was in 2003. Recent studies have found 20 million people are still exposed to unsafe levels of arsenic contamination.
According to HRW, some politicians are awarding safe wells to their supporters and allies instead of giving them to the people in rural areas who most need them, and there is little testing or monitoring of vulnerable communities.
“The official response to arsenic contamination … is failing, with the government expending considerable resources in areas where the risk of arsenic contamination is relatively low and where water coverage is relatively good,” says the report.
“Bangladesh isn’t taking basic, obvious steps to get arsenic out of the drinking water of millions of its rural poor. The government acts as though the problem has been mostly solved, but unless the government and Bangladesh’s international donors do more, millions of Bangladeshis will die from preventable arsenic-related diseases,” said HRW researcher Richard Pearshouse.
“Progress reviews mostly involve counting the number of safe water devices installed by the government, international donors and NGOs, then multiplying those totals by a hypothetical number of optimal users for different water points,” he said.
Source: “The Guardian”