20 Million Poisoned In Bangladesh By Arsenic-Laced Water

Nepotism and neglect from the local government has led millions to suffer and die from contaminated wells.

Credit: HRW

Credit: HRW

20 million people living in rural Bangladesh are suffering from what is being called the largest mass poisoning in history. According to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based human rights group, millions are still drinking arsenic-laced water.

Arsenic is an element found naturally in the earth’s crust and is used in agricultural industry. It is also produced by copper smelting, mining and coal burning. Pollution exacerbates the natural run-offs from arsenic deposits and can pollute water sources, causing cancer, nervous and respiratory system damage, and child development issues.

This is not the first time Bangladesh has experienced this issue. About 20 years ago, health experts found naturally occurring arsenic in shallow tube wells across the region. Knowing the detriment caused by the element, the international community raised awareness and aided local governments in constructing deep wells for rural communities.

According to HRW, the local governments have since allowed the issue to be pushed to the back-burner, with nepotism and poor governance contributing to the current state of the water in Bangladesh.

Millions of rural citizens rely on the very same shallow, hand-pumped wells that are poisoned with arsenic, as it is their only water source. As a result, an estimated 43,000 die from arsenic-related illnesses every year in Bangladesh alone.

Bangladesh’s healthcare system is virtually nonexistent for those afflicted. The government identifies arsenic-related illnesses primarily based on the presence of skin lesions; however, the vast majority of affected persons do not develop them. As a result, poisoned individuals rarely receive the care they need.

After conducting research and surveying the 125,000 government-dug deep wells over the course of several years, HRW found that there was little to no oversight of them. They were often deteriorated, to the point that rural communities were forced to resort to the arsenic-laced shallow wells.

Credit: HRW

Credit: HRW

HRW found nepotism was rampant, with politicians prioritizing digging new wells for family, friends, supporters, and political allies, instead of regions that were most desperate for new wells. Because the deeper wells are more costly, poorer segments of the population do not have access to them.

The World Health Organization has expressed outrage at the Bangladeshi government for allowing such a widespread contamination go unaddressed. Due to pressure from the international community, the government has sprung into action, screening about 5 million wells and painting them red or green based on their safety.

Richard Pearshouse, senior researcher at HRW who led the study, blamed the political leaders, stating:

“Bangladesh isn’t taking basic, obvious steps to get arsenic out of the drinking water of millions of its rural poor. What we found was basically poor governance. There is no technical problem that can’t be solved if the political will is there. But what we see is that the government is using many of its valuable resources in areas where there is no need for deep tube wells from the government.”

Meanwhile, the poor and often uneducated residents of the rural communities continue to use the wells, unbeknownst of all the detriments arsenic can cause. It is appalling that the government would allow for its own people to be poisoned to this extent, demonstrating absolutely no regard for the well-being of its citizens.

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