Contaminated Groundwater Threatens Millions in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, an impoverished South Asian country, 24 million people have potentially been exposed to arsenic, with another 75 million at risk, due to contaminated groundwater. In fact, residents of 59 out of the country’s 64 districts have been impacted.
Bangladesh is home to some of the world’s most fertile soil. However, that same soil contains high levels of naturally-occurring arsenic, a carcinogen which causes many cancers including skin, lung and bladder, as well as cardiovascular disease. It is this arsenic that has leached into the regional groundwater used by many citizens. This crisis may have apparently been brought about by well-intentioned development groups, who over the past few decades have encouraged communities to dig wells, rather than using water from potentially polluted sources on the surface.
High levels of arsenic in groundwater not only cause significant problems in the provision of safe drinking water, but also raise concerns about food safety, in the case of long-term use of groundwater for irrigation purposes – whereby crops become contaminated due to the accumulation of arsenic.
In addition to the arsenic contamination the situation is also exacerbated by recurring water-related hazards and declining freshwater availability that have also adversely impacted the health and livelihoods of millions in this densely populated country.
Institutionalizing integrated water management, particularly in rural areas, will be critical in addressing this challenge. This story also illustrates that a plentiful supply of water is not enough to secure a country’s health. The quality of that water is just as essential.
Arsenic in Groundwater: A World Problem [PDF]