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“Bangladesh is facing the largest mass poisoning of any population in history due to the presence of arsenic in its drinking water supply. The scale of this environmental disaster is greater than any seen before and goes beyond the accident at Bhopal, India in 1984, and Cheronobyl, Ukraine in 1986.”

From Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) report we have learnt that the arsenic matter was known to the government as early as 1993. The government is naturally trying to avoid panic but one cannot keep such a sensitive information as a permanent secret unless those who are at risk know what to do. Disaster Forum (DF) took an initiative on 1997 to publish a quarterly fact Sheet on Arsenic. The objective of this issue is, to aware the people of Bangladesh and concern organizations those who are involved in supplying safe drinking water. Since then D.F is disseminating the hard copy of Fact Sheet to the national and international concern organizations and advocating among the people of Bangladesh. Disaster Forum wants to open a web page to disseminate various arsenic related information in home and abroad.

Disaster Forum’s Activities on Arsenic

“Empirical field study to find variation of arsenic in handpump tubewells during operation of irrigation wells.”

Disaster Forum has conducted an “Empirical field Study to Find Variation of Anenic in Handpump Tubewells during Operation of Irrigation wells.” British Geological Survey (BGS) in its last study report, March 2000, about arsenic problem in groundwater in Bangladesh said ” irrigation is not the major cause of the ground water arsenic problem but its possible impacts need further study.” It is also the fact that in 1970, prior to the massive national program of installation of Handpump tubewells, there were already above 200,000 handpump tubewells in the country providing drinking water to millions of people of Bangladesh. During the same time the number of irrigation wells were only a few and the number rose to a few hundred in mid seventies. Today there are over 100,000 irrigation wells in the country pumping continuously during the entire dry season abstracting huge quantity of ground water at a very high rate. With due respect to the study findings, it is felt that a small empirical study should be carried out to see the change (if any) in arsenic concentration of Handpump tubewells in real life condition when the irrigation wells are in full blast operation. The study can be conducted over a period of 12 months from November to October in an existing field condition, taking the pro, post and operating conditions of irrigation well.

What people need to know about arsenic

Arsenic poisoning in the ground water is a recent discovery and therefore an unfamiliar phenomenon. The average people of Bangladesh are unaware of the cause and effect of arsenic contamination. Here are few important messages for awareness building.

  • Arsenic poisoning or Arsenicosis is not contagious or hereditary. Drinking arsenic contaminated water only causes it.
  • Identify the source of the drinking water used by the effected people.
  • People, especially in the rural areas are advised to get their tube well water tested for arsenic with the help of the nearest public health engineering department, or any NGO involved with the program.
  • Look for people with similar ailments especially women in the same locality.
  • Do not drink or cook with water from a contaminated tube-well, which is marked red.
  • Water from tube-wells, which is marked green, is safe for drinking and cooking purpose.
  • Arsenic contaminated water may be used for other household purposes other than drinking and cooking purpose.
  • There is no medical treatment for arsenic poisoning, symptoms of arsenic poisoning manifests as skin lesions, dark spots on chest, hands, palms and soles, chronic cough and cold, burning sensation on the skin and hardening of the into nodules.
  • At the earlier stage of poisoning the condition can be reversed by drinking arsenic free water.
  • If the condition gets advanced patient can obtain considerable relief by drinking arsenic free water.
  • At a more advanced stage the situation become irreversible but it is suggested to drink arsenic free water. It may prolong life.
  • Arsenic can’t be removed by boiling the contaminated water.
  • Safe water means:
    • Safe water means properly harvested rainwater.
    • Safe water means water from protected ponds after proper filtering or boiling.
    • Safe water means water from ring well and dug well after filtering or boiling if needed.
    • We should seek water from wherever it comes, be tube well water or pond water or sky water (rain).

Safe Water Options

Arsenic contamination in the ground water of Bangladesh is now well recognized and it’s impact on human life and the environment has already proven to be life threatening at a national level. Under the circumstances we should look for other sources which could be used as an alternative sources of drinking water rather than further exploration of the ground water.

Traditional ring well (kua)

Dug-well is an ancient source of drinking water in the world. Sub-surface water which contain soil and seepage surface water are the main sources of ring well and has found to be free from any arsenic contamination. According to “Progatir Pathey” a publication (July 1997), of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics it is safe. This source is prone to external contamination and thus sanitary protection and surveillance is required to ensure safety.


SourceSub-surface water
using periodYear round
max depth12m
made by burnt clay Tk.S0.OO av/ring
Const.time req.10-15 days
Const.periodDry season

Traditional ring-well (Idara)

Dug-well is an ancient source of drinking water in the world. Sub-surface water which contain soil and surface water are the main source of ring well and has found to be free from any arsenic contamination.

According to “Progatir Pathey” a publication (July 1997) of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics it is safe. This source is prone to external contamination and thus sanitary protection and surveillance is required to ensure safety.


SourceSub-surface water
using periodYear round
max depth18m
RingMade by RCC
Price/ringTK120.00 av/ring
Const.time req.20-30 days
Const.periodDry season

Rain water-harvesting system

UNICEF/DPHE introduced rain- water collection in some parts of the country where both surface and ground water is scarce especially during the dry season.

UNICEF along with Molt MacDonald invented Ferro-cement pre-fabricated jar of various capacities. Rainwater harvesting system may supplement safe water in the arsenic affected area.


SourceRain water
Collection sourceRoof of house
Collection rate0.8ltrs/m2/year incl.evaporation
Using period6 months
Cost of PVC/rnTk. 100.00
Water collection jarFerro-cement jar
Cost of jar:
Capacity: l000ltrs. capacity:2500ltrs Capacity:3000ltrs
Tk. 1200.O0
Tk. 2500.00
Tk. 3300.00
Maintenance costTk. 200max

Pond sand filter

UNICEF along with DPHE has been promoting this system since eighties. OXFAM group has been carrying out water sampling from the PSF water in Pathorghata. Most of the sample result showed acceptable level of e.coli and turbidity. However, water surveillance and hygiene practice is very important to endure its safety.


SourceSurface water
Collection sourcePond/lake
Collection rateYear round
Using period2.18 m
Cost of PVC/rn1.58 m
Water collection jar1.35 m (clear)
Cost of jar:
Capacity: l000ltrs. capacity:2500ltrs Capacity:3000ltrs
pre filter chamber
filter chamber
storage chamber
filter media
deljvery line
Maintenance costtunnel/PVC filter
450mm sand
coconut fiber
Delivery rate0.1 ltr/sec.
Construction costTk. 25000.00
Maintenance costTk. 600.00 max

Pitcher filter

Traditional filter has been in use in the rural areas to clean pond or ring-well water when physical cleaning required. This has not been technically tested but it is believed that the pitcher filter can clean more than 90% of the suspended solids and irons and at some extent limited pathogens. This system requires further investigation and may need development before reintroduced or promoted.


SourceSurface water
Collection sourceWell/pond
Using periodAs and when required
Pitcher15 ltrs capacity
Filter mediaKhoa
Dripping rate7 ltrs/hr
Material costTk. 300.00
Construction time2 days
Maintenance costTk. 100.00 max/year

Household mini sand filter

This mini filter has been based on Oxfam’s principal of slow sand filter with modified flow rate, which has been tested in the Teknaf Refugee camp. Trial performance showed acceptable physical and bacteriological cleaning on specific raw water quality e.g. less dirty and less polluted water.


SourceSurface water
Collection sourcePond/lake/well
Using periodAs and when required
plastic barrel200 ltrs capacity
Filter mediaPVC filter
0.30 m depth khoa
0.60 m depth sand
synthetic fabrics
Material costTk. 1500.00
Construction time
2 to 4 days
Maintenance costTk.200.00 max/year

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