Friday, March 27, 1998 Published at 01:19 GMT
Poisoned water endangers millions
Water pumped from underground reservoirs often contains arsenic
The lives of tens of millions of people in Bangladesh are being put at risk because of arsenic in the water supply.
The naturally occurring poison is being pumped out of the ground in wells, many of them paid for by the international community.
The source is natural underground reservoirs, called aquifers. But in many cases arsenic in the sediment contaminates the water.
The BBC's South Asia correspondent, Mike Wooldridge, discovered the anxiety behind the early morning rituals of villagers in the district of Faridpur. He says this is what Bangladesh, with its history of natural calamities, needs least of all.
Beyond a certain point the disease can no longer be checked and increasing weakness sets in. For most villagers, there is resignation, too. "Wherever I dig, the water is contaminated," said one.
In a nearby village the tube wells are tested by a team from a Bangladeshi charitable medical network. Out of 15 examined, 14 are well above the arsenic limit and more cases are surfacing.
Dr Sharif Tushar, from Dhaka Community Hospital, told BBC News: "We visit different villages every day and we find more contaminated wells and new patients. Some can be cured - some cannot. The situation is getting worse."
Life is notoriously tough for many in Bangladesh and tube wells have been vital in attempts to transform the country from basket case to bread basket.
The charity UNICEF, which has helped sink more than a million wells, acknowledges that despite warning signs the arsenic crisis crept up on the international community.
"It's difficult to pinpoint where the blame lies. I don't think it was done maliciously on anybody's part - it was done with the best intentions of better health for people."
As another household sees its well declared unsafe, there are nagging questions about whether this nation might have over-exploited its ground water and whether the crisis could have been anticipated.