The Curse of Arsenic Contamination in the Bengal Basin
Arsenic is one of the most toxic and carcinogenic elements in the environment. Arsenic poisoning is an emerging and critical health issue in south Asia, particularly in Bangladesh and West Bengal of India. The existence of Arsenic in drinking water and/or its irreversible health impacts were relatively unknown to the world until recently. This really has potential to cripple millions of people in the resource poor country of ours – Bangladesh. Reluctantly though, this makes us feel privileged in Australia despite all the fuss about Sydney’s current water supply restrictions, reuse issue, and water contamination scare of 1998.
We grew up drinking and using water from tube (pump) wells mostly in rural areas, in many cases these were donated with the best intentions by aid agencies. Unfortunately for many Bangladeshi villagers their uses may have devastating long-term health effects, which will be difficult to cure. It is sad that there is no better alternative at present to supply drinking water to the rural people in Bangladesh.
This confirms the precariousness of nature and our limited ability to analyse, and foresee all the consequences of well-intended aid programs, implemented by many local NGOs, since our independence in 1971. The late Mike Carlton of 60 Minutes (Channel 9) visited Bangladesh in 1998 or early 1999 to investigate the issue and mysteriously found tube wells located several metres apart having one with Arsenic contaminated water and the other not.
Arsenic poisoning, its cause, impacts and potential cure have been a topical issue and there were various investigations, funding commitments and research at both national and international levels over the last several years. The outcome is a significant publication by Australia’s CSIRO in February 2006, which also featured country report on Bangladesh and other relevant articles. The book basically brings together the current knowledge on arsenic contamination worldwide, reviewing the field, highlighting common themes and pointing to key areas needing future research. For details please see the link: www.publish.csiro.au/pid/3478.htm
Hammondville (Sydney)26 July 2006