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  • The Lethal Quench

    People in Bangladesh were plagued by waterborne diseases until several groups came to their aid by drilling groundwater wells. Although cholera and other diseases diminished, other problems started within a few years. People complained of patchy skin, stomach pains, gangrene, and the incidence of cancer increased. What was happening? Arsenicosis. Here is an advanced case of arsenic poisoning, China. (Photo courtesy of USGS.)

    Bangladesh and a number of other Asian countries have naturally occurring arsenic in their groundwater. A recent field study ("Scientists solve puzzle of arsenic-poisoning crisis in Asia") investigated why. Bacteria turns out to be a culprit. When robbed of oxygen, these bacteria "breathe" using rust, arsenic, and other chemicals. The process of using the arsenic converts the arsenic into a form that dissolves easily in water.

    "Every day, more than 140 million people in southern Asia drink groundwater contaminated with arsenic. Thousands of people in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Myanmar and Vietnam die of cancer each year from chronic exposure to arsenic, according to the World Health Organization."

  • What's it like to be a 10 year old in Bangladesh?

    Ten year old Yasmin Akhtar takes part in this hygiene education lesson in Bhaterkhil, Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of WaterAid /Jim Holmes.)

    In this lesson children play a game where blue powder is sprinkled on to a football. The children then pass the football to one another and the blue powder is spread from child to child. This game shows how diseases and germs can be easily passed form one person to another.

    Games like these are just one of the many ways that WaterAid teaches children about safe hygiene practises. Other methods include puppet shows, plays, picture cards and books.

  • Will someone fix my arsenic water?

    Article from SciDev Net:

    "Many new technologies have promised to remove arsenic from drinking water but little has changed on the ground, finds T. V. Padma.

    [MATLAB] Razia Begum has been asking the same question for two years now: "Please will someone fix my arsenic filter?"

    She lives in Nagda, a village in one of the areas of Bangladesh most severely contaminated by arsenic in drinking water — although at first glance there is nothing about the village's lush paddy fields to suggest anything dangerous.

    Razia's family, like many thousands of others in such areas, was given an 'alcan' filter — a simple unit containing a material called activated alumina that absorbs arsenic from water — under a UN project in 2006. Two years later, the filter stopped working as it became clogged up and needed specialist attention that was no longer available.

    Ever since, Razia has been searching in vain for a well with a green tube, an indicator of arsenic-free water. She finally settled for pond water, which is contaminated with village waste and used for bathing, and which is a source of diarrhoeal infections. (Photo shows symptoms of arsenic poisoning.)

    Straightforward solutions to the arsenic problem that affects hundreds of millions of people have, so far, been hard to come by.

    "I am not aware of any research that has led to a widespread application for providing arsenic-safe water to people in the affected areas," says Mohammad Yunus, senior scientist at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, which is based in Dhaka and works in Nagda and neighbouring villages.

    This is despite the fact that scientists have made great progress in understanding how, where and why arsenic ends up in soil and water, and have designed promising tests and filters. But for such inventions to survive, they must overcome basic, yet hard-to-resolve issues that lie far beyond the laboratories."

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