Ensuring arsenic-free water for villagers in Bangladesh
By Arifa S. Sharmin
NABINAGAR, Bangladesh, 23 June 2009 – No matter how hard Abeda Khatum – a young villager in the community of Zinodpur – pumps the tubewell, no water comes out. The rainy season is about to start, but for now, the canal boats are stranded in the mud.
“We were using the tubewell, but during the dry season, the water problem turned into a crisis,” says Abeda.
The shortage of safe water during the dry season adds to the hardship of daily life for villagers. But the problem with water is not only scarcity. High levels of arsenic in the tubewells are a serious concern for the 550,000 people living in this area east of Dhaka.
“To avoid arsenic, we were using the water from the pond as most tubewell water is contaminated. We used to boil the water for drinking,” says Abeda.
There are more than 8,000 villages in Bangladesh where 80 per cent of all tubewells are contaminated. It’s estimated that about 20 million people are exposed to arsenic.
In response, the Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE) in Bangladesh, with the support of UNICEF, has developed a pond sand filter. It’s simple and easy to use.
“A simple hand pump is used to lift water from a pond to a concrete tank,” said Department of Public Health and Engineering spokesperson Pronob Kumar Bhowmik. “The pond water passes through different chambers of sand and brick chips, which removes bacteria and other pathogens. It is turned into safe drinking water.”
Fifteen pond sand filters have been installed in Nabinagar. They were built under the auspices of the Sanitation, Hygiene Education and Water Supply in Bangladesh, and project-funded by the UK Department for International Development.
Priority for the worst-affected
The project is implemented by UNICEF and includes education on hygiene and sanitation. The organization aims to install 21,000 new arsenic-free water points over the next five years, with priority given to communities worst affected by contamination.
“When we understood that this water would be arsenic free, then we came forward to help build the pond sand filter,” said villager Farhad Uddin Chowdhury, who agreed to have one built on his land and to share the water with his neighbours.
The filter has brought new hope to this community and to surrounding villagers, who also come to collect safe drinking water. It has meant that villagers have access to safe water during both the dry and the rainy seasons.