Ground Water


Ground water contamination and arsenic-poisoning

Relevant facts

  • Arsenic contamination of ground water continues to pose a serious threat in Bangladesh.
  • In addition to arsenic other heavy metals may also be a source of concern with regard to ground water.
  • The “three-kolshi arsenic filter,” devised by Dr. Abul Hussam, a BEN-CC member, and his colleagues, has received wide recognition and is being used widely for removal of arsenic from drinking water.
  • A general switch from groundwater to surface water holds the most promising route to overcoming the problem of arsenic and other heavy metals in the long run.
  • A switch from groundwater to surface water is also necessary because the groundwater table is a limited geological resource that will get depleted if used continuously, so that dependence on groundwater cannot be a sustainable long term strategy for the country.
  • Aggressive use of groundwater will lead to land-subsidence that can exact a heavy toll, particularly in urban areas.
  • Depletion of groundwater has already become a problem in north-west region of Bangladesh.
  • Since 1970s foreign lending agencies have been pushing Bangladesh toward groundwater despite the long term un-sustainability of this option.
  • By disconnecting floodplains from adjoining rivers, the Cordon Approach has aggravated Bangladesh’s dependence on groundwater.
  • By adopting the Open Approach, Bangladesh can conserve the abundant surface water of the summer months and use it in the winter and thus minimize the use of groundwater, as has been the practice in this country in the past.
  • Bangladesh can also make use of rainwater harvesting to get pollution free water.
  • Efforts may be made to enhance recharge of the groundwater table.

BEN’s recommendations

  1. Bangladesh should reverse its current tendency toward increasing dependence on groundwater and adopts the long-term strategy of depending on surface water;
  2. Everywhere inside the country, national government, local governments, and communities need to develop reservoirs where the monsoon abundance of surface water can be preserved for use during the winter;
  3. Necessary steps have to be taken for centralized filtration and supply of these reservoirs’ water to the neighboring population for drinking purposes;
  4. Where such centralized filtration and supply is not yet possible, various low cost filtration methods (such as use of alums or fitkiri) need to be promoted and made available;
  5. Until surface water supply can be ensured, and people has to depend on groundwater, steps should be taken to ensure appropriate test for contamination by arsenic and other heavy metals;
  6. Screening and monitoring of tube-wells for arsenic contamination has to be intensified, and people are encouraged to drink water from safe tube-wells only, if they cannot meet their drinking water need from either surface water or rain water harvesting;
  7. In cases where people have no source of drinking water other than contaminated tube wells, necessary steps have to be taken to ensure that low cost arsenic removal methods are made available to them;
  8. Bangladesh needs to avoid attempts by commercial and other vested interests to reap unethical profits from the arsenic misery through marketing expensive arsenic kits;
  9. In using arsenic removal methods, appropriate care has to be taken in disposal of the arsenic sludge, and centralized methods need to be put in place at the community level for such disposal;
  10. Extensive as well as intensive public awareness program has to be launched urgently on the danger of drinking arsenic contaminated tube-well water and urging;
  11. Skills of doctors and health workers have to be enhanced in diagnosing arsenicosis and in providing medical and health care to all affected patients.
  12. In dealing with the arsenic problem, as with other problems in general, Bangladesh should rely on local expertise and its own heritage, rather than foreign loans and advice, which often prove to be counter-productive, and only increases the country’s debt burden.
  13. Steps need to be taken to enhance recharge of the groundwater table.