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Bangladesh hosts Asian Conference on arsenic mitigation

About 50 million people affected by arsenic contaminated water in Asia

Dhaka, April 5, 2009. Today fifty-three experts and senior Government officials from 12 Asian countries are meeting in Bangladesh to discuss ways of mitigating the impact of arsenic contaminated water which put people at risk of poisoning. A total of 60 million people in the world are exposed to high levels of arsenic in water . More than 80% of them live in Asia. The conference was opened by Mr. Sheikh Kurshed Alam, Secretary, Local Government Division in the presence of Mr. Mark Henderson, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Advisor and Mr. Carel de Rooy, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh.

Among all countries, Bangladesh and India are the most affected with over 30 million people exposed to high levels of arsenic in the water. Bangladesh is also home to UNICEF’s largest arsenic mitigation programme.

Arsenic contaminated water represents a major health problem as even low concentrations of arsenic, when ingested over a period of years, can result in a range of serious effects - including skin lesions, cancer of the skin, lung and bladder, and gastro-intestinal and pulmonary conditions. Chronic arsenic poisoning has also been found to affect children’s cognitive development. There is no medical cure for arsenic poisoning. The only solution is to stop drinking arsenic-contaminated water.

“Bangladesh has accomplished a lot in terms of arsenic mitigation during the past decade”, said UNICEF Representative Carel de Rooy. “As a result, millions of people in arsenic-affected parts of Bangladesh have already switched to safe drinking water. But millions more remain exposed to arsenic. We need to come up with a clear strategy and a detailed investment plan to provide arsenic-free water to all citizens of Bangladesh by 2011 as pledged by the Government.”

The International Learning Exchange held in Dhaka and facilitated by UNICEF will provide a platform for knowledge sharing and learning for professionals of the water sector working in countries facing arsenic contamination. Participants will present experiences from their own countries and will discuss plans to strengthen arsenic mitigation activities.

Participants will also make a one-day field visit to Bera, Pabna, to see UNICEF-supported Sanitation, Hygiene Education and Water Supply in Bangladesh (SHEWA-B). This project implemented by the Department of  Public Health and Engineering and funded by the U.K. Department for International Development aims to install 21,000 new arsenic-free water points over five years, giving priority to communities facing arsenic contamination. In Pabna, participants will also observe community and household filters, which remove arsenic from water and are currently being tested. Finally they will visit a clinic where patients affected by arsenic are receiving treatment.

For more information, please contact:
  • Christine Jaulmes, Chief, Communication and Information Section, 9336701-10 Ext: 209, E-mail: cjaulmes@unicef.org
  • Arifa S Sharmin, Communication Specialist, Communication and Information Section, + 880 2 9336701-10, Ext:442; E-mail: assharmin@unicef.org

 

 

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