U.S. Water News Online
DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Arsenic poisoning of wells has reduced
access to safe drinking water to 17 percent in Bangladesh and it may
get worse, a U.N. official has said.
In the past three decades, the Bangladesh government drilled 5
million wells that provide safe drinking water to 97 percent of its
125 million population. But experts found arsenic in the groundwater
in many places in 1996, reducing the number of wells that were safe
for use, said Colin Davis, a water and sanitation expert at the
United Nations Children's Fund.
``Bangladesh has become a victim of its own success,'' Davis said.
UNICEF helped Bangladesh drill the wells that saved millions of
people from cholera and diarrhea, diseases caused by contaminated
Arsenic-tained wells have now exposed at least 24 million people
to one of the world's worst mass poisoning, Davis said.
Authorities have so far tested 51,000 wells across the country and
29 percent of them contained unacceptable level of arsenic, an
element that occurs naturally in groundwater. The figure could be
``So little is known about the magnitude of the problem,'' he
World Bank and UNICEF have provided Bangladesh more than $34
million to help build alternative sources of drinking water such as
storage of rain water or treatment of pond water.
But Bangladeshis, long accustomed to easy availability of well
water at home, are not changing their behavior.
``Surface water is heavily contaminated with fecal bacteria and
residues from fertilizer and pesticides,'' a UNICEF study released to
reporters said, ``Groundwater is still preferred.''
Authorities estimate the number of arsenic-afflicted patients at
7,600. The victims suffer from skin lesions, hardening of feet and
palms, and cracks in the skin. In cases of long consumption, the
symptoms may develop into ulcers and skin cancers.
Davis said it takes five to ten years for the symptoms to develop,
which makes early treatment difficult.
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