Kuzurdia--an arsenic-free village |
Dr Jamal Anwar
My niece Ana, a 17-year girl who studies at Oxford was thinking on her way back home during Easter holidays, what should she do with the money that she saved during the term from her pocket money. When she arrived at Dhaka airport, she told her mother that she wanted to donate that money for the poor. She knew that her uncle was engaged in Bangladesh with a determination to make arsenic free water available to the poor and affected people.
After some thinking she chose that her savings of 280 English Pounds should be of some help towards providing arsenic free safe water for the poor.
Millions of school children (5-17 years old) in Bangladesh are drinking arsenic contaminated water. Almost 80 per cent of rural population is analphabetic. Arsenic mitigation can be highly successful, if school students and teachers are educated and transfer their knowledge to their parents and neighbours. Bangladesh is facing the largest mass poisoning in history because of arsenic contamination in the drinking water supplies. Previously Bangladesh used to be proud that 60-70 per cent its population have access to tube well. Most of the tube wells are now contaminated.
Prof. Richard Wilson of Harvard University, USA describes: "In Bangladesh 30 million people are exposed to arsenic at levels higher than EPA presently permits (>50 ppb in the water). I have been quoted many times, without ever being contested, that the Bangladesh catastrophe makes Chernobyl look like a Sunday school picnic. Some thousands have already died from secondary effects of the skin lesions and there are estimates by responsible scientists that a million people will die eventually." (2001)
The research by Allan H Smith, professor of epidemiology at the University of California at Berkeley said that between 33 and 77 millions of Bangladesh's 125 million population was at risk. Smith predicted a bigger increase over the coming years in the number of cases of diseases caused by arsenic.
These ranged from skin lesions to cancers of the bladder, kidney, lung and cardiovascular problems. The scale of this environmental disaster is greater than any seen before.
Cardma decided to take up the challenge and has come forward to solving the problem by identification of facies-change within contaminated area and located and construct arsenic free wells. A few wells show ground water arsenic concentration is far below Bangladesh standard. Based on an understanding of the geological origins of contamination, it may be possible to identify areas or strata that are at relatively low risk of arsenic contamination. In some areas arsenic contamination is confined to highly localised sedimentary deposits.
Like all villages in Bangladesh, Kazurdia is a small beautiful village in Tanbul Kana, Faridpur but one of the worst arsenic affected areas of Bangladesh. There were several deaths in the village. The entire village population was affected by arsenic contamination. We selected this village for using Ana's small donation for obtaining arsenic free water on the basis of geological information.
After digging we found an arsenic free layer (aquifer) but not continuous. We set seven arsenic free wells within one and a half month.
Today about 100-2000 villagers are drinking arsenic free water. This is a cheap method. A sound knowledge of ground water hydrology can be applied to many worst affected areas of Bangladesh. It is not explainable why many NGOs and different organisations are depending on advice of expensive foreign consultants and experts, spending taxpayer's money for deep tube wells and expensive unworkable filters.
Thanks to Ana, a great donation and a big impact!
Dr Jamal Anwar is Vice President of CARDMA.