LOCAL Government, Rural Development (LGRD) and Co-operatives Minister Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan was commendably candid about words surpassing deeds in terms of mitigating the arsenic challenge. He recognised failures "in providing proper treatment to victims of arsenic contamination" and concluded that there had been "more words on the arsenic problem than action". Such a portrayal of real picture, one hopes, will be followed up by sustained activism in the arsenic mitigation area. We don't want to see such an assessment go in vain or give rise to further talking into the ether.

Indeed, we would like to attach a great value to what Mr Bhuiyan told the roundtable on safe water supply and arsenic mitigation, organised by the local government division of his ministry on Sunday. We are encouraged by certain observations made at the roundtable on the way the fight against arsenic contamination has been going on. Scientists are yet to find a specific treatment for arsenic-affected patients and "the treatments provided currently depend by and large on guesswork".

However, we could not agree with the finance minister who sometime ago aired the view that the arsenic problem has been overplayed. Such a statement smacks of political overtone and is actually distant from reality. Some 55 million people, or almost half of the country's population, are currently at risk of arsenic contamination, which, by itself, is an indication of the gravity of the crisis. The LGRD minister has hit the nail in the head when he said that despite significant success in marking out affected tubewells, some three crore people across the country drink arsenic-contaminated water.

The government needs to find alternative ways to supply safe drinking water. There have been much talk about rainwater harvesting, surface water treatment, etc. However, no comprehensive programme has yet been taken in this regard. Time is of crucial importance here. With each passing day users of arsenic-contaminated water are getting closer to a point of no return. In the absence of treatment for arsenicosis, prevention of the use of arsenic-contaminated water remains the only remedy. Failure to provide arsenic-free water is depriving millions of that chance, too.

Source: The Daily Star, October 16, 2002

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