(First published on April 7-8, 2016, on State of the Planet.)
Two decades after arsenic was found to be contaminating drinking water across Bangladesh, tens of millions of people are still exposed to the deadly chemical. Now a new report from the group Human Rights Watch charges that this is in part because the nation’s government “is failing to adequately respond” to the issue, and that political favoritism and neglect have corrupted the government’s efforts.
The report says Bangladesh’s health system largely ignores the health impacts of arsenic exposure. An estimated 43,000 people die each year from arsenic-related illness in Bangladesh, according to one earlier study. But the government identifies people with arsenic-related illnesses primarily via skin lesions, the report says, although the vast majority of those with arsenic-related illnesses don’t develop them. Those exposed are at significant risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease as a result, but many receive no health care at all.
“Bangladesh isn’t taking basic, obvious steps to get arsenic out of the drinking water of millions of its rural poor,” said Richard Pearshouse, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The government acts as though the problem has been mostly solved, but unless the government and Bangladesh’s international donors do more, millions of Bangladeshis will die from preventable arsenic-related diseases.”