Ganga-Meghna Brahmaputra || West Bengal || Bangladesh || Middle Ganga Plain, Bihar || Uttarpradesh
Jharkhand || North-East Hilly States || Rajnandgaon, Chattisgarh || Behala, Kolkata, WB || As toxicity- Homeopathic Treatment
Effectiveness & Reliability - As Field Testing Kits || Utility Of Treatment Plant
Causes, Effects & Remedies - Groundwater As Calamity || References

CAUSES, EFFECTS AND REMEDIES FOR GROUNDWATER ARSENIC CONTAMINATION IN THE GANGA-MEGHNA-BRAHMAPUTRA (GMB) PLAIN

In village predominant India and Bangladesh even a highly successful technology may not succeed in rural areas unless there is an honest will of the politicians, it fits the rural circumstances and is well accepted by the rural mass. Development of such technology is only possible when a combination is made between bureaucrats, technocrats and villagers with proper village level participation.

During the middle of 20th Century South Asian countries like India, Pakistan (Bangladesh being a part of the then Pakistan) had two major problems to deal with. They were - firstly, providence of food to the huge population and secondly, prevention of water contaminated diseases of the like of dihorrea, cholera, typhoid, dissentry etc. The yearly rainfall though among the highest in the world in Bangladesh and in West Bengal-India yet was not potent enough to satisfy the needs. Moreover, India and Bangladesh with enough resources in the tune of available surface water did not have the necessary infrastructure of preservation, distribution and purification facilities. The over all watershed management was poor. The farmer had to plea desperately for the rains in order to grow a harvest. The annual rainfall allowing a single harvest a year was not enough for the population and the situation getting even worse if there was a drought. Such a circumstance called for alternative remedies.

Somewhere during the year 1950, in Charamajdia, a small village of the district Nadia, West Bengal, the first induction of groundwater by pump created a furore. Localites fled at the sight of water gushing out from the earth. They shrieked: "Devil's water". They believed underground was the proverbial "Hell" where Satan resided. Hence they decided to refuse the use of that water. But this water came in at a trying situation for the struggling people. These gullible people, thoroughly advised by the government and aid-agencies finally decided to use the forbidden water. They were given assurance that this groundwater, the bliss of God will bring green revolution and good health.

The revolution did come, the diabolic extents, which the famine and the epidemic reached before its discovery became mere annals of history. The underground water survived the test of time and faith. It overcame the stigma of being a tool of the devil. The villagers drank cold water during the summer and moderately warm water during winter by merely pushing the handle of a small machine known as 'Tube-Well'. Bangladesh and West Bengal are land of rivers. The average annual rainfall in these two areas is 2000 mm. Bangladesh has 11000 m3 of available surface water per capita and for West Bengal it is about 7000 m3. But government and aid agencies overlooked these facts. The villagers started blowing out the storage of underground water. This entire process was controlled by no rules and regulations. The farmers took naps while their pumpsets flooded grounds. The dried out water bodies during summer were refilled by the aid of the pump drawing forth underground water and were used for cultivation of fish. Though amazing yet there were even common practices of emptying vast rain water reserved bodies during winter by connecting it to a river by canals; this emptied water body serving as a site for single cultivation. The blessings in the form of underground water have enthralled the entire West Bengal by then .The use of natural water was almost forgotten.

By the arrival of the 80's use of underground water had assumed mammoth proportion. The irrigation system was by then quite dependent on the underground water. Drinking water was also supplied from underground by pipelines to distant places. Unavailability of storage-tanks at many places meant 60 - 70% of the water being wasted. Even during monsoon a few days of dirth of rain called for the use of underground water. But by this time men have been more enabled, technologies were known and were capable to purify and reserve surface water, rainwater. But there were no effort on behalf of government and aid agencies to use vast surface water, rain water resources of West Bengal, Bangladesh minimizing groundwater extraction.

In the very year 1980 a new kind of skin disease was discovered in West Bengal. The disease was incurable. They were losing their life force to it. This gradually made them devoid of any passion for life. In July 1983 the disease was diagnosed and as its cause a metalloid available in tubewell water; arsenic was cited. During the next decade a single village of West Bengal with arsenic in ground water above 50 microgram per liter rose to a whopping number of 400 villages and the present tall is around 4000 villages. Arsenic has assumed dangerous proportions. This danger was never met with its due weightage.

The calamity came to the limelight during the International Arsenic Conference held at Calcutta during February 1995 for the first time. The statement was made: West Bengal is the worst arsenic affected place in the world. The magnanimity outgrowing even the disaster of Chernobyl. The grim arsenic situation of Bangladesh was also declared by this time and in the International Arsenic Conference at Dhaka during February 1998 proclaimed that the disaster in Bangladesh is unprecedented by the world arsenic scenario. On the eve of this conference World Bank declared that within a few years death across much of southern Bangladesh (1 in 10 adults) could be from cancers triggered by arsenic. World Bank, UNICEF, WHO agreed that Bangladesh and West Bengal, are in dire straits regarding the arsenic problem.

This diabolic situation of these two nations had not been effects of overnight callousness and misconception. It was the effect of years of negligence. The organizations initiated to set up tubewells at these two nations had not paid enough attention towards testing the underground water quality. During the 80's and 90's of the foregone century the foreign organization tested the quality of tubewell water at Bangladesh did not even conduct the tests on arsenic. The organization did not test for arsenic during the 1992 survey either. But ironically, during 1989, the same organization tested for arsenic at London aquifer. This certainly points at their share of responsibility towards today's situation. Professional negligence from aid-agencies towards developing countries was certainly not appreciable. The newspapers started publishing extensive articles on the arsenic issue at West Bengal from 1983 onwards. There are also instances of the devastating situation at West Bengal being reported on at the national as well as international research journals from 1987 onwards. The UNICEF report of 1995 stated that 25 million people in India were suffering from fluorosis, a disease caused by the consumption of underground water containing fluoride. This report of UNICEF supports that underground water may contain toxins, which may cause devastation. The number of these fluorosis victims currently in India is a staggering 62 million.

Before the beginning of the century there were 15 countries in the world which had arsenic contamination in water, of them, 4 countries - Bangladesh, West Bengal-India, China and Taiwan where people were suffering seriously. But arsenic had spread alarmingly in Asia over the last few years, in fact in the time span of only two years (2000 - 2002) 6 more nations have acquired notable arsenic contamination. These are Cambodia, Lao people Democratic Republic, Pakistan, Myanmar, Vietnam and Nepal. The International Arsenic Conference at San Diego (July 2002) brought out a new aspect of this debacle. For the first time the serious situation of Bihar (another state of India in Middle Ganga Plain), till recently unexplored, was brought out in black and white. This new discovery assumes towards a further statistical possibility. This states that a good portion of Ganges Plain of area about 530831 sq. km. may be infested with arsenic. This area has a population of about 450 million people.

The actual scientific reasoning for how arsenic, a metalloid in the sediment, leached out of the source into the aquifer is not clear. But definitely excessive extraction of underground water has helped the devil's cause. During the last 5 years arsenic has infested many tubewells which were earlier safe to drink and even the level of arsenic has increased in many of the existing tubewells .In this circumstance tubewells in the arsenic affected regions may not be reliable in long run as arsenic is found in the alluvial sediment but other toxin may be present in non-alluvial region. For an example Birbhum and Bankura districts of West Bengal do not contain arsenic, but do contain fluoride. Moreover, other crudities or toxins may appear in future in the underground water.

The ecological balance is a gift of Mother Nature herself. Even long before Noah's Ark, Mother Nature created the nature with all the elements residing in a peaceful co-existence. If suddenly the system is disrupted then a catastrophe is bound to occur. We know 40% of the world's population faces water shortages and by 2050 half the world will face the same. West Bengal and Bangladesh are abounding with hundreds of rivers, flooded river basins, ox-bow lakes, lagoons, ponds and rainwater resources. But this 'molten gold' needs proper utilization. Proper watershed management with people's participation would have resulted not only in the elimination of the crisis but also could have bettered economically as Malaysia did by selling water to Singapore and helped its national economy. Similarly, Israel bought water from Sudan and became solvent in food production by drip cultivation instead of flooding the field. They even sold excess production to other countries including Sudan.

The world may learn from West Bengal and Bangladesh that such devastation will appear on any country that would use their natural resources so indiscriminately. These mercilessly exploitations of nature is like signing a pact with the devil. They should also learn to obey the rules and regulation of Mother Nature, which she created over her thousands of years of experience.

 

Top