Years ago, the World Bank funded a drilling project in Bangladesh that created wells to access groundwater for irrigation. While this did temporarily help to fight off famine that ravaged the country, no one took into account the high levels of arsenic which are naturally present in some of Bangladesh’s groundwater. As a result, the sediment in surface water has become so polluted with this poison that the World Health Organization is calling the phenomenon the “world’s worst case of mass poisoning,” even worse than Chernobyl. Now, decades later, 70 million people in Bangladesh and India can consume extremely high levels of arsenic every time they eat rice, the region’s primary staple, or use water.
Scientists in the UK who have been monitoring this problem recently came up with a solution that might help put an end to the mass poisoning. Bhaskar Sen Gupta and his team of scientists at Queen’s University Belfast have developed a system of tube-wells that pump the groundwater to the surface into pools where it is exposed to oxygen and then after a few hours, as a result of this aeration, the arsenic naturally evaporates. After arsenic levels have sufficiently decreased, the water is pumped back underground to the wells. Dr. Gupta comments that “This project…is the only method which is eco-friendly, easy to use and deliverable to the rural community user at an affordable cost.”
The World Bank is providing funding for sustaining the water purification plants (which will be run by local villagers) and for the expansion of this program to other parts of Southeast Asia. Hopefully, levels of arsenic-related cancer cases will decrease and millions of people will be assured that their water and crops are arsenic-free.