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30,000 suffering from arsenic poisoning: Minister

Nearly 30,000 people have been struck by arsenic poisoning since the Govt began addressing a poisoned water crisis in 1998.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2006 12:59 IST

Nearly 30,000 people have been struck by arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh since the government began addressing a poisoned water crisis in 1998, a minister said on Monday.

"A total of 29,500 arsenic patients were identified in 190 sub-districts after the government launched the arsenic mitigation water supply project in 1998," state minister for local government Ziaul Haq Zia told parliament.

While arsenic occurs naturally worldwide, it became a public health crisis in the South Asian country of 140 million when development agencies in the 1970s dug "tube wells" to provide clean water from underground aquifers.

Tube wells sink to depths of 100-200 feet into aquifers, subterranean layers of rock or sand that contain water and many of which also contain arsenic.

Only in the late 1980s did a local health researcher link the wells to an outbreak of strange skin lesions, one symptom of arsenic poisoning.

According to official statistics, around 30 percent of water wells in the country have been tested but more than 50 million people are still exposed to water with higher arsenic levels than the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers safe.

The minister said the government had trained 2,330 doctors and 12,590 health workers to treat people suffering from arsenic poisoning.

Experts had also examined arsenic contamination in 3.03 million tube wells while 3,001 rain water reservoirs had been built and 6,000 deep tube wells and 739 natural wells dug to provide villagers with alternative sources of water.

WHO has labelled the debacle the "largest mass poisoning of a population in history".

First Published: Feb 14, 2006 12:59 IST