Cerrejon is one of the biggest coal mines in the world for energy production, in the middle of indigenous Wayuu territory. Today they suffer from high rates of malnutrition and disease.
Arsenic contaminated water in Bangladesh causes thousands of deaths every year
After over two decades since it was first identified, arsenic contaminated water in Bangladesh kills 43,000 every year. Solutions are being implemented, slowly.
It is “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history,” the World Health Organisation had said back in 2010. Now, a Human Rights Watch survey has found that arsenic contaminated water in Bangladesh is still drunk by 20 million people, exposing them to one of the most toxic chemical elements known to humankind. Those affected are suffering from serious illnesses such as skin, liver, kidney, bladder and lungs cancer, as well as cardiovascular and lung disease. Despite cleanup efforts initiated at the turn of the century, the situation is still dire, with over 43,000 people dying each year. It is expected that up to 5 million Bangladeshi children born between 2000 and 2030 could perish after being exposed to arsenic in their water supply.
A widespread problem across Southeast Asia
Arsenic released in the environment never breaks down into simpler, less harmful substances. In highly industrialized nations contamination is typically caused by human activity, often deriving from chemical industrial waste or pesticide residue. On the other hand, arsenic in Bangladesh is released by the Earth’s crust in the groundwater, making the problem particularly hard to solve. Thousands of years ago, when arsenic-rich rocks eroded from the Himalayas, the chemical deposited in the areas where water is currently being drawn. Similarly, India, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, all in the south of the Asian continent, are experiencing similar problems.
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) April 7, 2016
How the contamination started
The current arsenic pollution was preceded by another water problem. Until the 1980s, the Bangladeshis drew water from shallow wells, ponds and rivers, which caused several waterborne diseases such as cholera and dysentery. As a response to this, the United Nations and several donors from western countries advised Bangladesh to bore deeper wells, going directly into the underground water aquifers, to gain access to pathogen-free water. Unfortunately, the recommended drilling depth is where the arsenic-laden rock is found. With the first poisoning cases emerging in the early 1990s, the issue gained worldwide attention in 1995, when an international conference was held in Kolkata.
The slow and controversial path to solutions
Millions of dollars were spent between 1999 and 2006 in order to mitigate the contamination. The World Bank funded the installation of approximately 13 thousand rural wells between 2004 and 2010. Yet, “Bangladesh isn’t taking basic, obvious steps to get arsenic out of the drinking water of millions of its rural poor. 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,” according to Human Rights Watch researcher Richard Pearshouse. The slow progress is also attributed to government favoritism, with politicians awarding safe wells to their supporters instead of giving them to those in rural areas, who are most in need.
Tuna recovers while the Komodo dragon falls into the endangered list due to climate change. Sharks and rays are also at risk because of overfishing.
The United States follow the European Union’s example in banning the chlorpyrifos pesticide, a hazardous chemical for the development of children.
Kenya’s first National Wildlife Census reveals that there are dangerously few specimens remaining of several iconic species, including the black rhino.
In northeastern Syria, the Euphrates’ water level is so low that five million people risk being left without drinking water.
On World Elephant Day, we tell the story of the Reteti elephant sanctuary in Kenya, the first community owned and run elephant sanctuary in all of Africa that also is hiring indigenous women to be elephant keepers.
On 9th August, the IPCC presented the first part of its sixth Assessment Report. If we don’t act now against the climate crisis, we’ll be forced to live in a state of constant emergency.
From the Mediterranean to Finland, from Canada to Siberia, wildfires have wiped out thousands of hectares of land. The climate crisis also plays its part.
It may be true that some parts of the Amazon rainforest are slowly being turned into a savannah, but it’s crucial not to throw in the towel.