Ganga-Meghna Brahmaputra || West Bengal || Bangladesh || Middle Ganga Plain, Bihar || Uttarpradesh
Jharkhand || North-East Hilly States || Rajnandgaon, Chattisgarh || Behala, Kolkata, WB || As toxicity- Homeopathic Treatment
Effectiveness & Reliability - As Field Testing Kits || Utility Of Treatment Plant
Causes, Effects & Remedies - Groundwater As Calamity || References

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Summary of 239 days field survey from August 1995 to February, 2000

27 days detailed field survey information from April 1999 to February, 2000

The magnitude of the arsenic calamity in Bangladesh surfaced only recently. In February 1998, the Guardian (UK) detailed the magnitude of the arsenic contamination in Bangladesh; the local chief of the World Bank has stated that tens of millions of people are at risk, and that 43,000 villages out of 68,000 are presently are at risk or could be at risk in the future. In the same report, the World Health Organization (WHO) was quoted to have predicted that within a few years death across much of southern Bangladesh (1 in 10 adults) could be from cancers triggered by arsenic. After analysing 2000 hand tubewell water samples from the eastern, southern and western Bangladesh, the British Geology survey reported early January 1999 that approximately 21 million people in that country were drinking water with arsenic level above 0.05 µg/l. More recently, Prothom Alo, a Bangladesh daily, reported on 31 March 2000 the findings of a study jointly done by the British Geology Survey and DPHE- Bangladesh. After testing 3534 tubewell water samples from 61 districts of Bangladesh, the study found arsenic levels in ground water to be above 0.05 in 249 Police Stations in 53 districts. According to this report, 58% of the water samples contained arsenic above 0.05 µg/l and 91% above WHO guideline value (0.01 µg/l).

During 1992, the School of Environmental Studies (SOES), Jadavpur University, while working on groundwater arsenic contamination in West Bengal, India, noticed something unusual in Gobindapur village, block (P.S.) Swarupnagar, North 24-Parganas district, West Bengal. It was found that in one family none of the members was showing arsenical skin lesions except a woman who came to West Bengal from Bangladesh (Village: Bansdoha, P.O.: Fatepur, District: Satkhira) after her marriage.

On being interviewed, the woman said that many of her relatives in Bangladesh had similar skin lesions. She further said that she had seen similar skin lesions among a few of her neighbours and also in some people living in two neighbouring villages (Uttar Sripur and Tona). The SOES, in its report on West Bengal's arsenic calamity, had stated that Bangladesh, too, in all probability, was arsenic-affected. During our survey in the arsenic affected areas of West Bengal, we had come across people with arsenical skin lesions from the district of Nawabganj in Bangladesh, which is close to West Bengal's Malda district. In course of time, we began to get more and more information about the arsenic problem in those parts of Bangladesh that border the arsenic- affected areas of West Bengal. SOES analysed the hair, nail, skin-scale, urine of patients who came to Calcutta for treatment, and most samples were found to be rich in arsenic. Director, SOES informed UNICEF-Bangladesh and WHO-Bangladesh during 1994 (letters published earlier) that Bangladesh was, in all probability, arsenic-affected also and requested them to address the problem before it was too late.

Immediately after the international conference on "Arsenic in groundwater: cause, effect and remedy", held in Jadavpur University, Calcutta, India in February, 1995, medical people from Bangladesh hospitals started writing (letters we had published) to SOES that they had been getting, for some years, patients with similar skin lesions at the out-patient departments of their hospitals. But, the doctors stated they had failed to recognize them as arsenic patients. After the conference, more and more people suffering from arsenical skin lesions in Bangladesh started coming to Calcutta for treatment (patients came from the districts Faridpur, Nararanganj, Bagerhat, etc.). The patients who came to Calcutta for treatment, later brought hair, nail and water samples from their villages for arsenic analysis. During July 1995 Director, SOES, visited Dhaka and met officials of Health and NIPSOM and gave them the preliminary data on the arsenic affected areas of Bangladesh.

During August 1995, the Geology Department of Rajshahi University, Bangladesh (Prof. Hamidur Rahaman), worked jointly with SOES and analysed 600 water samples from a few bordering districts situated close to the arsenic-affected districts of West Bengal. Further two medical doctors (S.A. Ahmed and S.A. Hadi) from the National Institute for Preventive and Social Medicine (NIPSOM), Dhaka in Bangladesh also came in June 1996 with hair, nail, skin-scales and water samples. After that, SOES and NIPSOM worked jointly for 21days during August-October, 1996 on Bangladesh and covered 17 districts, collected 750 water samples, about 325 each hair, and nail and 20 skin scales from the affected areas and analysed them for arsenic.

In the meantime, representatives from the Dhaka Community Hospital, Bangladesh, came to Calcutta in November 1996 and analysed water, hair, nail, urine and skin-scale samples of arsenic victims from some districts of Bangladesh. For a detailed study, SOES carried out a joint survey with the Dhaka Community Hospital from 19 December 1996 to 7 January 1997 and covered 15 districts. Since then, the School of Environmental Studies is jointly working with DCH on arsenic groundwater contamination in Bangladesh.

Even after working 239 days in Bangladesh from August 1995 to February 2000, we still feel that we have only sighted the tip of the iceberg. Each time we did a survey, we got fresh information about new arsenic affected police stations and villages.

In April 1999, we had decided to survey all the villages in Police Station areas and districts from where we had information about people suffering from arsenical skin lesions. We decided to survey for 30 days - from April 1999 to February 2000. Ultimately, our survey lasted 27 days. The villages we surveyed had not been surveyed earlier.

Though we did a field survey for 27 days, we think we got to see only the surface. But we did get new information about 3 districts, 13 P.S. and 73 villages where we expect arsenic patients.

Finally, after about 5 years field survey in Bangladesh, it may be said without any shred of doubt that the arsenic calamity in Bangladesh is the biggest in the world. We feel that the magnitude of the problem in Bangladesh surpasses the aggregate problem of all the 20 countries of the world where arsenic contamination of groundwater contamination has been reported. A detailed survey on Bangladesh is needed to know the actual magnitude and severity of the problem in that country.

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