“Water, like religion and ideology, has the power to move millions of people. Since the very birth of human civilization, people have moved to settle close to water. People move when there is too little of it. People move when there’s to much of it. People journey down it. People write and sing and dance and dream about it. People fight over it. And all people, everywhere and everyday need it.” Mikahail Gorbachev, 2000.
According to The Science behind the Story, Arsenic in the Aquifer: Tackling A Tragedy in Bangladesh, UNICEF along with British environmental scientist at the British Geological Survey launched a project in the 1970s to improve access to fresh water in the poverty-stricken south-Asian nation, Bangladesh.
Sadly Bangladesh’s diseased-ridden surface waters and contaminated groundwater have been a major source of disappointment to those trying to obtain a healthy and sustainable life.
In 1983, a Bangladeshi medical doctor, K.C. Saha of the School of Tropical Medicine in Calcutta, India began treating many patients who showed signs of arsenic poisoning. After several tests and careful examination he discovered that this was a result of arsenic poisoning from well water.
In 2001 British Geological Survey and Bangladesh’s government completed testing of over 3500 wells and published their findings. In a horrific discovery it was confirmed that as many as 2.5 million wells accommodating approximately 57 million people were contaminated with arsenic.
It was concluded that the arsenic contamination was of a natural origin.
Fast forward 40 years and Bangladesh although doing better still encounters among its several challenges, a very series water crisis.
“Bangladash has an enormous excess of surface water during the summer monsoon (June to October) and relatively scarcity towards the end of the dry season in April and May. Internal renewable water resources are about 105 km3 per year, while in-flowing trans-boundary rivers provide another 1,100km3 annually (average 1977-2001). Bangladesh heavily depends on the flow of the Brahmaputra, Megha and Ganges river basins that originate in India, Nepal and China. Whereas deforestation and flood control in the upstream catchment areas increase the flood peaks in Bangladesh, water withdrawals and water diversions may result in water shortages in the dry season.
“The Ganges Water Sharing Treaty between India and Bangladesh, signed in 1996, allows Bangladesh to receive a minimum amount of 35,000 cubic feet per second (900 m3/s) during the dry season
“Deep tube wells with electric pumps are common as a source of water supply for irrigation in Bangladesh (November to May, dry season). The government had long been interested in making the operation of these tube wells more financially viable. One option consideration was to increase revenues by selling water from deep tube wells as drinking water and for small-scale commercial revenues by selling water from deep tube wells as drinking water and for small-scale commercial operations, thus at the same time addressing the arsenic crisis.
“Also the government was interested in developing new management models beyond pure community management in order to both mobilize funding and improve the quality and sustainability of service provision. To that effect two parallel innovative approaches have been pursued.” Md. Ferdousul Haque from Ferdous, Dhaka, Bangladesh
As you can see it’s not a pretty picture.
“I work for many textile exporting industries. Because of their buyers demand, they are compelled to install a waste water treatment plant.
“By buyers, I mean, the US/European brands. There have been reports about starting these waste water treatment plants in the specific time frame given for surveillance audits of buying houses. Some textile industries run these treatment plants all year long but then dispose it into polluted streams of surface water. Huge capacity water extraction pumps are installed to extract out ground water and at times from rivers flowing adjacent to the factories without any regulations…
The cost of a .5 liter bottle is 15 Bangladesh Taka, BDT and a 1.5 liter is 25 BDT. In American currency, 1 BDT is about the same as $ 80.50 U.S. dollars.
Nitrates, at toxic levels are also found in the drinking water.
Blue Baby Syndrome or methemoglobinemia, is very common in Bangladesh. Often a fatal illness, it is caused when an infant’s blood is not able to carry enough oxygen to the cells and tissues in the body.
When ingested, nitrates convert to nitrite in the digestive system, the nitrites react with the hemoglobin in the blood forming high amounts of hemoglobin in the blood. The major cause of the syndrome is excess amounts of nitrates in lactating mothers.
Consumers who purchase the water have no guarantee that it complies with World Health Organization 1983 standards.” said Tufail Ali Zubedi, a consultant for Bangladeshi textile factories with regard to environmental and energy issues.
The world’s most densely populated country and largest contributor to the United Nations Peace-Keeping Forces is in desperate need of change.
Bangladesh has been known for it’s archaeological sites, historical mosques and monuments, rolling tea gardens, tribes, poverty, political and bureaucratic corruption, political instability and vulnerable to climate change.
The Bangladeshis are smart, compassionate and hard working people who are paving their way towards a better tomorrow but they need help, direction and reaffirmation in a lifestyle that is safe and prosperous.
The more people around the world that discuss this overwhelming issue, the better chance the Bangladeshi and others who suffer from these predicaments have for a brighter tomorrow.