Friday, May 27, 2016 EDITORIAL

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 EDITORIAL 

SC’s landmark verdict must be obeyed in letter and spirit

Hailed by distinguished jurists, human rights activists and people from across the social spectrum, the honourable Apex court’s verdict against police’s century-old discretionary powers regarding arrest, detention and remand is a landmark judgment in favour of people’s liberty and fundamental rights. With the Supreme Court’s pronouncement dated 24 May, the police have at last lost the century-old arbitrary powers concerning arrest, detention in custody and remand, as the Supreme Court (SC) has sustained the High Court verdict against the random use of sweeping authority of the law enforcing agencies.

The HC verdict delivered on April 7, 2003 asked the government to amend some provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1898, which provided the police with the arbitrary powers of the police.
Noted jurist Shahdeen Malik said, “Incidents of police torture have increased recently. However, it is a matter of hope that following the judgment, police torture will come down and we will move towards becoming a civilized nation.” Rights activist Sara Hossain, also a lawyer for the petitioners, said, “This judgement is a big weapon. It proves that people’s rights can be established through joint efforts by the court, lawyers, mass media and human rights and social activists.”
Obviously the judgment is a groundbreaking one, but it is also a sad reminder of a ‘varsity student’s death in police custody. And it will for sure well up strong emotions and bring tears to the eyes of many bereaved families of victims who died in police or RAB custody over the past several years, one among those innocent unfortunate persons was Shamim Reza Rubel, a 24-year-old student of Independent University. Rubel died from injuries sustained during interrogation by members of the Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police on July 23, 1998.
A petition was lodged following the death of Rubel as a result of brutal torture in police custody. On June 17, 2002, Dhaka’s Additional Sessions Judge’s Court sentenced the 13 accused to life term in jail in the case filed over the murder. [Vide bdnews24.com dated 5 May2011].
During the ruling Awami League regime from 2009 the nation has shuddered to witness horrifying seven contract murders by the RAB personnel; custodial deaths of opposition leaders, killings in the name of encounter shootout by the RAB, Police and other agencies; enforced disappearances of opposition leaders etc.       Human rights watchdog ‘Ain O Shalish Kendra’, ‘Odhikar’ and other human rights bodies in this country have been regularly reporting on extrajudicial killings, custodial and “cross-fire” killings, on abductions by plainclothes policemen who have been picking up people leading to death or disappearance. Such detentions and enforced disappearance [which was vehemently condemned over and over again by our late doyen of journalism ABM Musa] have been officially denied—-some victims turning up as corpses floating in the river or rotting by the roadside, but many others were never found. 
As it seems, the country has assumed the shape of a police state as law enforcement agencies are enjoying full liberty to eliminate opposition party activists and leaders; and the process began as soon as the AL came to power in 2009. The rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) said on 2 April 2015 that as many as 64 people were killed in custody of law enforcers and so-called crossfire in the first three months of 2015. Of them, 46 people were killed in so-called crossfire — 15 by RAB, 24 by police and seven by other law enforcement agencies. The ASK report said, according to claims by families and others, plainclothes men identifying themselves as law enforcers picked up 25 people during that period.
We wish and hope the law enforcing agencies shall obey the SC’s landmark verdict in letter and spirit.
 
Nurjahan Begum will live in our heart forever
Truly a leading light among the Muslim women literati in the mid-20th century, Nurjahan Begum (1925 – 2016), a pioneer of women in journalism, passed away at the ripe old age of 91 last week, after an eventful illustrious life. Born in Chalitatali of Chandpur of greater Comilla, her schooling began in Calcutta, and she graduated from the Lady Brabourne College in 1946.
The credit of being the pioneer in formal education for Muslim women in Bengal goes to Nawab Faizunnesa Chaudhurani (1847 - 1903) of Comilla, the author of “Roopjalal”, who set up in 1873 the first girls’ school, which was later upgraded to a degree college which adopted English as its medium of instruction. Later on author of books in English and Bengali, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat  Husain (1880 -1932) appeared on the scene and in 1911 founded the Sakhawat  Memorial  Girls’  School at Calcutta.
Having joined the editorial department of women writers and journalists in the first illustrated Bangla magazine for women
Nurjahan worked with her father, Nasiruddin Ahmed (1888-1994)—-a titan of an editor—-who founded in 1918 the Saogat, a Bengali literary liberal reformist magazine commended to have mentored some of the renowned men and women writers of Muslim Bengal.
On July 20, 1947, when Nasiruddin started the first illustrated weekly for women in Bengal, the Begum magazine, Nurjahan became its acting editor, and poet Begum Sufia Kamal became its editor.
The Saogat and the Begum moved to Dhaka, and so did Nasiruddin, who set up its office at downtown Dhaka’s Patuatuli. In 1954, the Begum Club was established at the magazine’s office. The club which became the nerve-centre of socio-cultural activities for Bangalee women in the 1950s and helped in the nurturing of many women writers.
Nurjahan Begum’s immense contribution to our nation will be reverentially remembered for all times to come.

Comment

Hailed by distinguished jurists, human rights activists and people from across the social spectrum, the honourable Apex court’s verdict against police’s century-old discretionary powers regarding arrest, detention and remand is a landmark judgment in favour of people’s liberty and fundamental rights. With the Supreme Court’s pronouncement dated 24 May, the police have at last lost the century-old arbitrary powers concerning arrest, detention in custody and remand, as the Supreme Court (SC) has sustained the High Court verdict against the random use of sweeping authority of the law enforcing agencies.

The HC verdict delivered on April 7, 2003 asked the government to amend some provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1898, which provided the police with the arbitrary powers of the police.
Noted jurist Shahdeen Malik said, “Incidents of police torture have increased recently. However, it is a matter of hope that following the judgment, police torture will come down and we will move towards becoming a civilized nation.” Rights activist Sara Hossain, also a lawyer for the petitioners, said, “This judgement is a big weapon. It proves that people’s rights can be established through joint efforts by the court, lawyers, mass media and human rights and social activists.”
Obviously the judgment is a groundbreaking one, but it is also a sad reminder of a ‘varsity student’s death in police custody. And it will for sure well up strong emotions and bring tears to the eyes of many bereaved families of victims who died in police or RAB custody over the past several years, one among those innocent unfortunate persons was Shamim Reza Rubel, a 24-year-old student of Independent University. Rubel died from injuries sustained during interrogation by members of the Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police on July 23, 1998.
A petition was lodged following the death of Rubel as a result of brutal torture in police custody. On June 17, 2002, Dhaka’s Additional Sessions Judge’s Court sentenced the 13 accused to life term in jail in the case filed over the murder. [Vide bdnews24.com dated 5 May2011].
During the ruling Awami League regime from 2009 the nation has shuddered to witness horrifying seven contract murders by the RAB personnel; custodial deaths of opposition leaders, killings in the name of encounter shootout by the RAB, Police and other agencies; enforced disappearances of opposition leaders etc.       Human rights watchdog ‘Ain O Shalish Kendra’, ‘Odhikar’ and other human rights bodies in this country have been regularly reporting on extrajudicial killings, custodial and “cross-fire” killings, on abductions by plainclothes policemen who have been picking up people leading to death or disappearance. Such detentions and enforced disappearance [which was vehemently condemned over and over again by our late doyen of journalism ABM Musa] have been officially denied—-some victims turning up as corpses floating in the river or rotting by the roadside, but many others were never found. 
As it seems, the country has assumed the shape of a police state as law enforcement agencies are enjoying full liberty to eliminate opposition party activists and leaders; and the process began as soon as the AL came to power in 2009. The rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) said on 2 April 2015 that as many as 64 people were killed in custody of law enforcers and so-called crossfire in the first three months of 2015. Of them, 46 people were killed in so-called crossfire — 15 by RAB, 24 by police and seven by other law enforcement agencies. The ASK report said, according to claims by families and others, plainclothes men identifying themselves as law enforcers picked up 25 people during that period.
We wish and hope the law enforcing agencies shall obey the SC’s landmark verdict in letter and spirit.
 
Nurjahan Begum will live in our heart forever
Truly a leading light among the Muslim women literati in the mid-20th century, Nurjahan Begum (1925 – 2016), a pioneer of women in journalism, passed away at the ripe old age of 91 last week, after an eventful illustrious life. Born in Chalitatali of Chandpur of greater Comilla, her schooling began in Calcutta, and she graduated from the Lady Brabourne College in 1946.
The credit of being the pioneer in formal education for Muslim women in Bengal goes to Nawab Faizunnesa Chaudhurani (1847 - 1903) of Comilla, the author of “Roopjalal”, who set up in 1873 the first girls’ school, which was later upgraded to a degree college which adopted English as its medium of instruction. Later on author of books in English and Bengali, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat  Husain (1880 -1932) appeared on the scene and in 1911 founded the Sakhawat  Memorial  Girls’  School at Calcutta.
Having joined the editorial department of women writers and journalists in the first illustrated Bangla magazine for women
Nurjahan worked with her father, Nasiruddin Ahmed (1888-1994)—-a titan of an editor—-who founded in 1918 the Saogat, a Bengali literary liberal reformist magazine commended to have mentored some of the renowned men and women writers of Muslim Bengal.
On July 20, 1947, when Nasiruddin started the first illustrated weekly for women in Bengal, the Begum magazine, Nurjahan became its acting editor, and poet Begum Sufia Kamal became its editor.
The Saogat and the Begum moved to Dhaka, and so did Nasiruddin, who set up its office at downtown Dhaka’s Patuatuli. In 1954, the Begum Club was established at the magazine’s office. The club which became the nerve-centre of socio-cultural activities for Bangalee women in the 1950s and helped in the nurturing of many women writers.
Nurjahan Begum’s immense contribution to our nation will be reverentially remembered for all times to come.

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Extremists have taken over Israel: Moshe Ya’alon

Dr. Ludwig Watzal

 
Israel’s defence minister Moshe Ya’alon was replaced by one of the most extreme politicians in Israel: Avigdor Liberman. The rift between Ya’alon and Netanyahu seems irreconcilable. Right from the start, Ya’alon supported the IDF prosecutors who charged Elor Azaray with the murder that caused an outcry in Israel. A right-wing crowd proclaimed Azaray “King of Israel”. Netanyahu distanced himself from Ya’alon.
Azaray executed a helpless heavily wounded Palestinian in cold blood at point-blank range. The other incident that made Netanyahu furious was Ya’alon’s defence of deputy of the chief of general staff Yair Golan for his courageous speech in which he mentioned similarities between the rise of fascism in the 1930s in Germany and Israel. Ya’alon encouraged his generals to speak out on moral issues.
 
Destabilization feared
Although Ya’alon is a veteran Likudnik, he still has kept his liberal viewpoints. In his resignation speech in Tel Aviv he expresses his deep concern about Israeli society. “Extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.” At the beginning of his harsh verdict of Netanyahu, he stressed the harmonious cooperation with Netanyahu, especially during of “Operation Protective Edge” in which the Israeli army massacred over 2100 Palestinians, many of them women and children.
After this kind words, Ya’alon gave a startling analysis of Israeli society in general and on the current government in particular. To his regret, Ya’alon found himself “in deep disagreement over professional and ethical issues with the prime minister, a number of ministers and a few members of Knesset”. “I have fought with all my strength against radicalization, violence and racism in Israeli society, which threatens its resilience and percolates also into the IDF, already causing it harm.” He also resisted the attacks on the Supreme Court and Israeli judges by members of the Netanyahu cabinet. Both will cause great damage to the rule of law and could have disastrous consequences for Israel.
Ya’alon thinks that Israel is a “healthy society” and the majority is sane and seeks a “Jewish, democratic and state” that accepts each person as a person. Israel has the duty to protect and embrace minorities and not to “incite” against them. “But to my great regret, extremist, and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.”
 
’I’m afraid of Israel’s future’
He fears a division among Israelis caused by “cynicism and lust for power” that could be critical for the country and future generations. And he continued saying: “I do not regret whatsoever thesis professional and ethical views, even if they have led to the end of my time as defence minister. I am comfortable with my path and will not turn away from it. I am afraid for Israel’s future, and will continue in this struggle going forward because we have no other country.” He has lost faith in Netanyahu. And Ya’alon exposed the moral bareness of Netanyahu to the whole world.
Avigdor Liberman is not a military man. He has no credentials whatsoever. As a former bouncer, he behaves like a Rambo and shoots from the hip. For years, he has been calling for the expulsion of Palestinians. Palestinians who are disloyal to Israel should have their heads chopped off. “Anyone who’s with us should be given everything - up to half the kingdom. Anyone who’s against us, there’s nothing to do - we should raise an ax and cut off his head; otherwise, we will not survive here.” Years ago, he called for the bombing of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt.
Netanyahu has chosen the most unpredictable, unreliable and dangerous man for the most crucial and sensitive position. It’s easy to predict that the Israeli security establishment and especially the military will not accept Liberman as their commander-in-chief. Amir Peretz, the dovish ex-Labour Party leader who was also a non-General defence minister failed miserably. The self-proclaimed “most moral army in the world” could not have gotten a better man at the helm than Liberman. He will be the guy who is going to expose this fantasy as a myth.
 
Countercurrents.org.  Dr. Ludwig Watzal works as a journalist and editor in Bonn , Germany . He runs the bilingual blog between the lines. http://between-the-lines-ludwig-watzal.blogspot.de/

Comment

Dr. Ludwig Watzal

 
Israel’s defence minister Moshe Ya’alon was replaced by one of the most extreme politicians in Israel: Avigdor Liberman. The rift between Ya’alon and Netanyahu seems irreconcilable. Right from the start, Ya’alon supported the IDF prosecutors who charged Elor Azaray with the murder that caused an outcry in Israel. A right-wing crowd proclaimed Azaray “King of Israel”. Netanyahu distanced himself from Ya’alon.
Azaray executed a helpless heavily wounded Palestinian in cold blood at point-blank range. The other incident that made Netanyahu furious was Ya’alon’s defence of deputy of the chief of general staff Yair Golan for his courageous speech in which he mentioned similarities between the rise of fascism in the 1930s in Germany and Israel. Ya’alon encouraged his generals to speak out on moral issues.
 
Destabilization feared
Although Ya’alon is a veteran Likudnik, he still has kept his liberal viewpoints. In his resignation speech in Tel Aviv he expresses his deep concern about Israeli society. “Extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.” At the beginning of his harsh verdict of Netanyahu, he stressed the harmonious cooperation with Netanyahu, especially during of “Operation Protective Edge” in which the Israeli army massacred over 2100 Palestinians, many of them women and children.
After this kind words, Ya’alon gave a startling analysis of Israeli society in general and on the current government in particular. To his regret, Ya’alon found himself “in deep disagreement over professional and ethical issues with the prime minister, a number of ministers and a few members of Knesset”. “I have fought with all my strength against radicalization, violence and racism in Israeli society, which threatens its resilience and percolates also into the IDF, already causing it harm.” He also resisted the attacks on the Supreme Court and Israeli judges by members of the Netanyahu cabinet. Both will cause great damage to the rule of law and could have disastrous consequences for Israel.
Ya’alon thinks that Israel is a “healthy society” and the majority is sane and seeks a “Jewish, democratic and state” that accepts each person as a person. Israel has the duty to protect and embrace minorities and not to “incite” against them. “But to my great regret, extremist, and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.”
 
’I’m afraid of Israel’s future’
He fears a division among Israelis caused by “cynicism and lust for power” that could be critical for the country and future generations. And he continued saying: “I do not regret whatsoever thesis professional and ethical views, even if they have led to the end of my time as defence minister. I am comfortable with my path and will not turn away from it. I am afraid for Israel’s future, and will continue in this struggle going forward because we have no other country.” He has lost faith in Netanyahu. And Ya’alon exposed the moral bareness of Netanyahu to the whole world.
Avigdor Liberman is not a military man. He has no credentials whatsoever. As a former bouncer, he behaves like a Rambo and shoots from the hip. For years, he has been calling for the expulsion of Palestinians. Palestinians who are disloyal to Israel should have their heads chopped off. “Anyone who’s with us should be given everything - up to half the kingdom. Anyone who’s against us, there’s nothing to do - we should raise an ax and cut off his head; otherwise, we will not survive here.” Years ago, he called for the bombing of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt.
Netanyahu has chosen the most unpredictable, unreliable and dangerous man for the most crucial and sensitive position. It’s easy to predict that the Israeli security establishment and especially the military will not accept Liberman as their commander-in-chief. Amir Peretz, the dovish ex-Labour Party leader who was also a non-General defence minister failed miserably. The self-proclaimed “most moral army in the world” could not have gotten a better man at the helm than Liberman. He will be the guy who is going to expose this fantasy as a myth.
 
Countercurrents.org.  Dr. Ludwig Watzal works as a journalist and editor in Bonn , Germany . He runs the bilingual blog between the lines. http://between-the-lines-ludwig-watzal.blogspot.de/

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 VIEW POINT 

Arsenic poisoning vis-à-vis water management

A. M. K. Chowdhury

 
Arsenic in its inorganic form is a highly toxic substance which is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of a number of countries. The WHO says, contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to public health from arsenic.   Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking-water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes.
The most important action in affected communities is the prevention of further exposure to arsenic by provision of a safe water supply. A natural component of the earth’s crust, arsenic is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water and land.
People are exposed to elevated levels of inorganic arsenic through drinking contaminated water, using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops, industrial processes, eating contaminated food and smoking tobacco.
 
PM on UN High-level Panel on Water
It is good to learn that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been appointed as a member of the United Nations (UN) High-level Panel on Water. UN Secretary General Ban Ki- moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim formally announced the appointment of 10 heads of state and government, as well as two special advisers to the panel.
Apart from Sheikh Hasina, the other newly appointed panel members are: Ameenah Gurib, president of Mauritus (co-chair), Enrique Pene Nieto, president of Mexico (co-chair), Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister  of Australia, Janos Ader, president of Hungary, Abdullah Ensour, prime minister  of  Jordan,Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, Macky Sall, president of Senegal, and Emomali Rahmon, president of Tajikistan. The two special advisers are Han Seung – soo, former prime minister of South Korea and Manuel  Pulgar-Vidal, minister of state for the environment of Peru.
The UN panel on water, which is aimed at mobilizing effective action to accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last January. The SDG 6 focuses on ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, at a time of unprecedented challenges.
 
43,000 Bangladeshis killed every year
The UN chief urged all partners to mobilize SDG 6 with political, financial and technological support. This was reported in the media on April 23, 2016. A news report said that some 20 million poor Bangladeshis are still drinking water contaminated with arsenic, two decades after the potentially deadly toxin was discovered in the supply. Bangladesh has failed to take the basic steps needed to tackle the problem, which kills an estimated 43,000 Bangladeshis every year, mostly in poor rural areas. Bangladesh has been building deep tube wells to source water from beneath the arsenic-tainted soil.
 
Proper government oversight needed
But Human Rights Watch (HRW) said  there was no proper  government oversight of the scheme, with politicians earmarking the new wells for their own supporters rather than putting them in the worst affected areas. The UN’s World Health Organization has called Bangladesh’s arsenic crisis “the largest mass poisoning  of a population in history.” Chronic exposure to arsenic is linked to cancers of the liver, kidney, bladder and skin as well  as heart disease. HRW said many victims in Bangladesh had no access to health care. It warned that millions of Bangladeshis would die unless the government and international donors act to mitigate contamination. Arsenic – laced water may  also  cause miscarriages, low  birth weights and poor cognitive development in children.
 
Around 210,000 tube wells installed
The government has installed around 210,000 tube wells over the past 12 years to mitigate the crisis and is testing the water from millions of shallow wells for contamination. In 2013 an investigation into the high levels of arsenic in Bangladesh’s ground water fuelled suspicions that eating rice boosts exposure to the poison. After testing thousands of volunteers, scientists found that those wh  ate large amounts  of rice  had high levels of arsenic in their urine than those who ate little rice. (The Daily Observer, dated April 7, 2016)
Earlier expressing concern over the uncertainty  in people’s life and livelihood created due to problems in the water sector speakers at a seminar entitled ‘Recognizing works in water’ organized By WASA, NGO Forum for Public Health, WASH Alliance, World Bank Group, WSSCC and UNICEF urged for taking necessary steps to solve the problems by ensuring adequate water supply, including safe water for all.
The life and livelihoods of the people and economy revolves round water. Safe water is vital for creating jobs and livelihoods, and  shortage of safe water  and the gradual disappearances of water bodies have created  serious problems for life and people they said. Though Bangladesh improved access to drinking water from 68 percent to 87 percent by 2015, almost 20 million people still lack access to this life saving resources. Enough quantity and quality of water can change people’s lives and livelihoods and even transform societies and economies, by taking necessary steps for increasing supply of safe  water and protecting the water bodies, they suggested. (The Holiday, dated April 1, 2016).
The Daily Star in its editorial on April 28, 2016 said as the sweltering heat makes life intolerable for Dhaka dwellers, a severe water crisis has made things go from bad to worse for residents of Dhanmondi,Indira Road, Senpara Parbata and Old Dhaka. In other parts of town, such as Bashabo, Madertek. Mugda,  Tantibazar and West Rajabazar, residents have to make do with dirty and smelly water. If the water shortage was a one – off occurrence, the  residents might have found a temporary solution, but in many areas, the water supply had been in a state of suspension for two weeks straight. Moreover, residents are also having to put up with frequent  load shedding in this unbearable heat. The power cuts are aggravating the water shortage even further.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been appointed as a member of the UN High-Level Panel on Water. It is a prestigious appointment. But some 20 million poor Bangladeshis are still drinking water contaminated with arsenic.
We hope  the government will take effective measures to adopt a planned water management system to overcome drought, flood and river erosion and ensure adequate safe water supply for all.
 
Chronic arsenic poisoning
Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic, mainly through drinking of contaminated water, eating of food prepared with this water and eating food irrigated with arsenic-polluted water, can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning. Skin lesions and skin cancer are the most characteristic effects.
The greatest threat to public health from arsenic originates from contaminated groundwater. Inorganic arsenic is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of a number of countries, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, China, India, Mexico, and the United States of America. Drinking-water, crops irrigated with contaminated water and food prepared with contaminated water are the sources of exposure.
Fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, dairy products and cereals can also be dietary sources of arsenic, although exposure from these foods is generally much lower compared to exposure through contaminated groundwater. In seafood, arsenic is mainly found in its less toxic organic form.Arsenic is used industrially as an alloying agent, as well as in the processing of glass, pigments, textiles, paper, metal adhesives, wood preservatives and ammunition. Arsenic is also used in the hide tanning process and, to a limited extent, in pesticides, feed additives and pharmaceuticals.
 
Inorganic arsenic content of tobacco
People who smoke tobacco can also be exposed to the natural inorganic arsenic content of tobacco because tobacco plants essentially take up arsenic naturally present in the soil. Also, in the past, the potential for elevated arsenic exposure was much greater when tobacco plants used to be treated with lead arsenate insecticide.
Arsenic occurs in inorganic and organic forms. Inorganic arsenic compounds (such as those found in water) are highly toxic while organic arsenic compounds (such as those found in seafood) are less harmful to health.

Comment

A. M. K. Chowdhury

 
Arsenic in its inorganic form is a highly toxic substance which is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of a number of countries. The WHO says, contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to public health from arsenic.   Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking-water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes.
The most important action in affected communities is the prevention of further exposure to arsenic by provision of a safe water supply. A natural component of the earth’s crust, arsenic is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water and land.
People are exposed to elevated levels of inorganic arsenic through drinking contaminated water, using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops, industrial processes, eating contaminated food and smoking tobacco.
 
PM on UN High-level Panel on Water
It is good to learn that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been appointed as a member of the United Nations (UN) High-level Panel on Water. UN Secretary General Ban Ki- moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim formally announced the appointment of 10 heads of state and government, as well as two special advisers to the panel.
Apart from Sheikh Hasina, the other newly appointed panel members are: Ameenah Gurib, president of Mauritus (co-chair), Enrique Pene Nieto, president of Mexico (co-chair), Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister  of Australia, Janos Ader, president of Hungary, Abdullah Ensour, prime minister  of  Jordan,Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, Macky Sall, president of Senegal, and Emomali Rahmon, president of Tajikistan. The two special advisers are Han Seung – soo, former prime minister of South Korea and Manuel  Pulgar-Vidal, minister of state for the environment of Peru.
The UN panel on water, which is aimed at mobilizing effective action to accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last January. The SDG 6 focuses on ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, at a time of unprecedented challenges.
 
43,000 Bangladeshis killed every year
The UN chief urged all partners to mobilize SDG 6 with political, financial and technological support. This was reported in the media on April 23, 2016. A news report said that some 20 million poor Bangladeshis are still drinking water contaminated with arsenic, two decades after the potentially deadly toxin was discovered in the supply. Bangladesh has failed to take the basic steps needed to tackle the problem, which kills an estimated 43,000 Bangladeshis every year, mostly in poor rural areas. Bangladesh has been building deep tube wells to source water from beneath the arsenic-tainted soil.
 
Proper government oversight needed
But Human Rights Watch (HRW) said  there was no proper  government oversight of the scheme, with politicians earmarking the new wells for their own supporters rather than putting them in the worst affected areas. The UN’s World Health Organization has called Bangladesh’s arsenic crisis “the largest mass poisoning  of a population in history.” Chronic exposure to arsenic is linked to cancers of the liver, kidney, bladder and skin as well  as heart disease. HRW said many victims in Bangladesh had no access to health care. It warned that millions of Bangladeshis would die unless the government and international donors act to mitigate contamination. Arsenic – laced water may  also  cause miscarriages, low  birth weights and poor cognitive development in children.
 
Around 210,000 tube wells installed
The government has installed around 210,000 tube wells over the past 12 years to mitigate the crisis and is testing the water from millions of shallow wells for contamination. In 2013 an investigation into the high levels of arsenic in Bangladesh’s ground water fuelled suspicions that eating rice boosts exposure to the poison. After testing thousands of volunteers, scientists found that those wh  ate large amounts  of rice  had high levels of arsenic in their urine than those who ate little rice. (The Daily Observer, dated April 7, 2016)
Earlier expressing concern over the uncertainty  in people’s life and livelihood created due to problems in the water sector speakers at a seminar entitled ‘Recognizing works in water’ organized By WASA, NGO Forum for Public Health, WASH Alliance, World Bank Group, WSSCC and UNICEF urged for taking necessary steps to solve the problems by ensuring adequate water supply, including safe water for all.
The life and livelihoods of the people and economy revolves round water. Safe water is vital for creating jobs and livelihoods, and  shortage of safe water  and the gradual disappearances of water bodies have created  serious problems for life and people they said. Though Bangladesh improved access to drinking water from 68 percent to 87 percent by 2015, almost 20 million people still lack access to this life saving resources. Enough quantity and quality of water can change people’s lives and livelihoods and even transform societies and economies, by taking necessary steps for increasing supply of safe  water and protecting the water bodies, they suggested. (The Holiday, dated April 1, 2016).
The Daily Star in its editorial on April 28, 2016 said as the sweltering heat makes life intolerable for Dhaka dwellers, a severe water crisis has made things go from bad to worse for residents of Dhanmondi,Indira Road, Senpara Parbata and Old Dhaka. In other parts of town, such as Bashabo, Madertek. Mugda,  Tantibazar and West Rajabazar, residents have to make do with dirty and smelly water. If the water shortage was a one – off occurrence, the  residents might have found a temporary solution, but in many areas, the water supply had been in a state of suspension for two weeks straight. Moreover, residents are also having to put up with frequent  load shedding in this unbearable heat. The power cuts are aggravating the water shortage even further.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been appointed as a member of the UN High-Level Panel on Water. It is a prestigious appointment. But some 20 million poor Bangladeshis are still drinking water contaminated with arsenic.
We hope  the government will take effective measures to adopt a planned water management system to overcome drought, flood and river erosion and ensure adequate safe water supply for all.
 
Chronic arsenic poisoning
Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic, mainly through drinking of contaminated water, eating of food prepared with this water and eating food irrigated with arsenic-polluted water, can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning. Skin lesions and skin cancer are the most characteristic effects.
The greatest threat to public health from arsenic originates from contaminated groundwater. Inorganic arsenic is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of a number of countries, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, China, India, Mexico, and the United States of America. Drinking-water, crops irrigated with contaminated water and food prepared with contaminated water are the sources of exposure.
Fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, dairy products and cereals can also be dietary sources of arsenic, although exposure from these foods is generally much lower compared to exposure through contaminated groundwater. In seafood, arsenic is mainly found in its less toxic organic form.Arsenic is used industrially as an alloying agent, as well as in the processing of glass, pigments, textiles, paper, metal adhesives, wood preservatives and ammunition. Arsenic is also used in the hide tanning process and, to a limited extent, in pesticides, feed additives and pharmaceuticals.
 
Inorganic arsenic content of tobacco
People who smoke tobacco can also be exposed to the natural inorganic arsenic content of tobacco because tobacco plants essentially take up arsenic naturally present in the soil. Also, in the past, the potential for elevated arsenic exposure was much greater when tobacco plants used to be treated with lead arsenate insecticide.
Arsenic occurs in inorganic and organic forms. Inorganic arsenic compounds (such as those found in water) are highly toxic while organic arsenic compounds (such as those found in seafood) are less harmful to health.

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