Toxic levels of arsenic continue to affect the water supply of 40 million people in Bangladesh. To support the Bangladeshi government deal with the problem by strengthening local institutions, UNICEF Water Safety Programme, the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and Ramboll have joined forces to design a water safety programme for Bangladesh.
As it stands around 91% of the world’s population drink clean water, an improvement of more than 2.6 billion since 1990 – yet around 663 million people are still without access to clean drinking water. The rapid gains over the past thirty years may come to be reversed in some areas, as climate change and increasing demand from urban centres and aging infrastructure begin to result in regional water crises’.
One of the major NGOs seeking to end water supply issues is UNICEF. Through the UNICEF Water Safety Programme, the organisation supports countries to meet their water, sanitation and hygiene goals by way of a range of measures spanning from developing water resources to protecting them once exploitation has begun. In addition, the organisation supports countries in dealing with toxic levels of metals, arsenic and fluoride as well as micro-organisms in their water supply, particularly in countries such as Bangladesh, India, China, Vietnam.
The contamination by Arsenic in Bangladesh’s drinking water is of particular concern. As it stands, almost 40 million people, 65% of the population, are drinking water with arsenic concentrations exceeding WHOs guideline value for drinking water due to high levels of naturally occurring arsenic across the country. To deal with water toxicity, UNICEF works with countries on a range of measures related to metals in local drinking water, from large scale research to provide governments with reliable data to monitoring well levels; by marking wells that do not produce potable water; finding low cost alternative safe water; and helping change knowledge, attitudes and practices to protect vulnerable populations from arsenic poisoning.
To support safe drinking water across Bangladesh, UNICEF Water Safety Programme, the Royal Institute of Technology (based in Stockholm, Sweden) and Ramboll have joined forces. The new initiative will leverage previous research funded by the Ramboll Foundation, into high arsenic levels within groundwater in Bangladesh, and aims to identify the locations of the toxin, with on the ground interventions planned for 2017.
The programme will support relevant ministries, government institutions and NGOs develop robust institutional systems in the public and private water sector. These institutions will be tasked, and prepared, to deal with the levels of toxins currently in local water bodies. Given the scale of the problem, the programme seeks to stepwise strengthen the local bodies to deal with the respective issues, in part, leaning on capacity from the private sector, which is contributing up to 90% of the tube well installations in the country.
A spokesperson for Ramboll states: “The objective of the program is to support the Government of Bangladesh in responding to the drinking water safety challenges in Bangladesh. The program will seek to respond to the water quality challenges within a water safety and water management framework with the objective of mitigating the negative impacts of water contamination on health.”