The Arsenic Mitigation and Research Foundation (AMRF) is a joint effort between academic researchers, medical doctors and development practitioners. Our program aims to establish safe water and health support in arsenic-affected and marginalised communities, and to derive lessons from these experiences for replication elsewhere in Bangladesh and in other countries facing similar challenges. Please download our flyer for more information. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
“I don’t understand Corona, and I don’t want want to know about it. I want work. If I can’t work, I only understand that I will not have food.“
I am a Rickshaw driver. What I used to earn at the end of the day was my only income. I don’t have any land or any other income. From the beginning of April, I could not go to road with my Rickshaw which was my only income to feed my wife and children including my old mother. First few days, I used to go to road, but due to restriction of movement of people for Corona, my income was less, but still I could manage food for my family. But from second week of April, I am sitting at home, I don’t have income. My days are getting harder. I am worried, tomorrow what I will do, who will give me food, what I will do for my children and my old mother. Five days back, I became desperate and went to road with my Rickshaw. Police stopped me and asked me why I had gone out on the road in lockdown in the area. They broke my Rickshaw, the only means of income I had. I don’t see any hope. I heard that Government will give some food, but I don’t think that that will reach up to me. I am uneducated, I don’t know anything what is happening and what will happen with Corona. I only know that I don’t have any food, I don’t have earning at the end of the day. I am hopeless. I don’t understand Corona, and I don’t want want to know about it. I want work. If I can’t work, I only understand that I will not have food. Do you want to give us food?
Summary from interview with Mr Sohag, rickshaw driver in Munshiganj, 08/04/2020
Hand washing with soap water is an important measure in the prevention of Corona virus infection. Unfortunately, many people in the rural areas do not know how to do it correctly. Even many NGO workers fail to talk to the community about this. The information is also missing in online media. Our project staffs are going to the community, motivating them to put on face masks and wash hands. Below you will find some short videos that explain the steps.
Using a face mask
Washing hands (community session)
Washing hands (demonstration)
But the efforts should not stop there. Since the lock-down in Bangladesh, millions of labourers, internal migrant workers, fishermen, rickshaw drivers, garments workers, etc, are unemployed. They are extremely vulnerable as they rely on daily wages for their basic needs. This could be the start of a widespread food crisis. From previous project activities, we know the most disadvantaged and vulnerable families in our working areas. We are in contact with the local government representatives looking for emergency responses for those families.
In december 2016, AMRF in collaboration with the Daily Kaler Kantho and WaterAid organised a roundtable on ‘Arsenic: Risk for Public Health’ in East West Media Group Limited, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
According to Dr Fariba Masud:
“Arsenic Mitigation and Research Foundation (AMRF) is working in Munshiganj to tackle arsenic problem. I have been involved in this project since its inception and I noticed that there are two types of people. One type of people lives in their ancestral lands, but a majority of them are away from their home. And then there are those who lost their homes to river erosion, and came here in search of job.
While some of them are day labourers, some others are rickshaw-pullers. If we take the existence of this section of the people into account, we cannot claim that the whole Munshiganj is place of well-to-do people. Those who are well-off installed deep tube-wells at the premises of their homes and are out of the danger of arsenic.
But what about those homeless people who are living in ghettos? I think they are vulnerable to arsenic contamination. We have been working for this section of people since long. We are creating awareness among them and arranging treatment facilities for them.
Munshiganj’s Lohojong is one of the most arsenic affected areas. From my first hand experience I can tell that many villagers don’t know whether their tube-well is free of arsenic or not. They don’t know to what extent arsenic is tolerable to human body. Blind consumption of unsafe water is slow poisoning them.”
According to Dr Zahed Md Masud:
“Arsenicosis is not a contagious or genetic disease. If more than 0.05 miligram arsenic is found in the water then it is considered harmful for the human health. Arsenic has been found in most of the areas of the country. People can be affected if they use the water where arsenic is prevalent. The study revealed that one person is affected per 1000 people. Country’s 63 percent women are affected by arsenicosis.
The rural people are mostly suffering from arsenic contamination. Arsenic contamination causes harm to the human body. And the diagnosis of arsenic-induced diseases is also a big problem. There are some medicines those can help people to live longer with such diseases but still these are not curable. There is a locality in Munshiganj where women have to bring drinking water from an area that is one and a half kilometres from her home.”
A new study suggest that community wells in Araihazar, and probably elsewhere in Bangladesh, were not optimally allocated by the government because of elite capture. As a proxy for water access, distance calculations show that 29% of shallow wells with >50 μg/L arsenic are located within walking distance (100 m) of at least one of the 915 intermediate or deep wells. Similar calculations for a hypothetical more even distribution of deep wells show that 74% of shallow wells with >50 μg/L arsenic could have been located within 100 m of the same number of deep wells.
We were part of a consultation which led to a recently released Human Rights Watch report saying “the Bangladesh government is failing to adequately respond to naturally occurring arsenic in drinking water across large areas of rural Bangladesh… Approximately 20 years after initially coming to international attention, an estimated 20 million people in Bangladesh – mostly rural poor – still drink water contaminated over the national standard.” The HRW report can be downloaded here. Please see our earlier post for more information on how we would frame the arsenic problem in terms of social justice and human rights.
We have seen many cases where existing water supplies are not up to standards due to a lack of maintenance. One major issue has been the bad state of the platform around the hand pump, which makes water use less accessible and increases the risk of bacterial infection. Last year, rather than only focusing on installing new water supplies, we also assisted communities with “fixing” these failed projects. From 04/2014 to 03/2015, we constructed and rehabilitated 34 tube-well platforms in Sreenagar and Louhajong upzilas, Over 2000 people are using these water supplies on a daily basis. (You can find our report here.)
During the last financial year (04/2014-03/2015), we have worked with communities to install fourteen new deep tube-wells in four different unions in Sreenagar and Lohajong upazillas. More than 1700 people have gained access to safe water from those tube-wells. The procedure is based in a participatory process briefly described in this report.
Arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh poses a major environmental health hazard to millions. The efforts of public health programmes to address the problem have often been short-lived and unevenly distrib- uted. The crisis represents a failure of governance and a structural injustice of global dimensions. Rights-based approaches to development have been proposed to address such problems. This paper explores the implications of framing the arsenic problem in terms of social justice and human rights. Continue reading “Publication: Toxic injustice in the Bangladesh water sector”