Twenty-five million Bangladeshis threatened with arsenic poisoning, says UNICEF
The United Nations Children's Fund says that around 25 million Bangladeshis are at risk of disability or death from arsenic poisoning in much of the country's drinking water.
The organisation aims to spend US$25 million to counter the world’s biggest problem of naturally occurring arsenic contamination of drinking water (see related story), and is already spending US$8 million in five of Bangladesh’s 64 sub-districts to encourage filtering of well water and the collection of arsenic-free rainwater for drinking, as well as increasing awareness of the risks.
A UNICEF spokesperson told edie that it will appeal for a further US$17 million to expand its projects to 15 other arsenic-contaminated areas, but that at present nearly 20 percent of Bangladesh’s population in over half of the country’s districts are at risk from drinking contaminated water.
The organisation, which has rejected claims in the past that its own encouragement of well-drilling has exacerbated the contamination of Bangladesh’s groundwater by arsenic, made the startling announcement after taking journalists on 26 August to witness the ravages of arsenic contamination on local people and explain UNICEF’s efforts to fight the growing problem.
The poison, which occurs naturally in rocks and sediments, is believed to have a very high concentration in large areas of Bangladesh for complex geological reasons. It leads to black spots and hardening of the skin into nodules, often on the palms and soles of the feet, which can lead to cancer and death.
Officials said that they had had already identified more than 8,000 arsenicosis cases – less than the tip of the 25 million iceberg.