Dying for a drink in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, every day 20 million people are drinking water contaminated with naturally-occurring arsenic. Each year, 46,000 of them die.

In the Satkhira and Bagerhat districts of south-west Bangladesh, the situation is dire. Most shallow wells are contaminated with odourless and tasteless arsenic that occurs naturally in the soil. Families have to walk for hours to collect safe drinking water from deeper wells, or risk their lives drinking the water from local water points.

The communities living in these areas are extremely poor and have little knowledge of the effects of drinking contaminated water. Many people live in slums, with lack of access to drinking water, electricity, toilets and drainage. It’s no way for people to live. We need to do something now so that the future generations have safe, clean drinking water.

What are we doing to help?

We're working to stop people from getting ill and dying, simply from having a drink.

With your help, we are:

  • Providing clean and safe drinking water – simple technologies such as arsenic removal plants and rainwater harvesting can help communities access clean water
  • Educating people on the health implications of drinking contaminated water
  • Testing water points so that communities can see which water is contaminated

How can you help?

With your support we can help more people like Liza, who are living amongst the effects of contaminated water.

“The thing about arsenic is you get poisoned slowly, so you don't know who has been affected around you already. Arsenic kills you every day, slowly.” – Liza

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This extension of the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Southern Bangladesh project will work with women, men and children living in the Satkhira and Bagerhat municipalities of south-west Bangladesh, to help them understand the impact of drinking water contaminated with arsenic and get clean, safe water.

Providing clean and safe drinking water

Groundwater – water extracted from wells – is the main source of water supply in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, arsenic in excess of the acceptable limit has been found in water from shallow tubewells in many parts of the country.

One technology that can help is an arsenic removal plant. This is a clever solution which extracts arsenic and other contaminants from the water, so that communities can access clean water.

Bangladesh has heavy rainfall, which means that rainwater harvesting is another simple and practical solution for many communities. Usually, the roof of a home is used but other surfaces can be used. Guttering is then fitted to capture the rainfall, which is then transported into a storage container.

Training and education

Often arsenic poisoning doesn’t show immediate symptoms – but eventually causes major health problems. We show communities how to detect arsenic in drinking water, and how to spot when someone has been affected. We will also work with them to help them understand what the long term problems are.

Local masons will be trained in construction of arsenic removal plants, so that they can help their communities to drink safe and clean water.

Water point testing

People often don’t know whether they are consuming contaminated water, and only realise when they have developed a life-threatening illness. Trained technicians will work with communities to test water points, to see if they are at risk.

How it works

Read more about the simple technologies that can help poor communities access clean water from our free technical information service, Practical Answers.

Small-scale arsenic removal plant

Contaminated water is passed through a tank with four chambers using a perforated pipe. This introduces oxygen that reacts with the arsenic, which becomes insoluable. As the water passes from one chamber to the next, successively smaller filters stop the arsenic particles from passing through.

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Removing arsenic from water

This guide outlines the variety of different arsenic removal methods and technologies that are available for use with small-scale supplies in developing countries.

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Improving water quality

Small-scale approaches to water treatment can help people who don’t have access to mains water supplies. This library of technical documents introduces some of the key technologies.

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Rainwater harvesting

Rainwater can be collected as it falls from the roofs of houses and buildings. The water can be used in irrigation or domestic use. Read case studies and practical guides to the technology.

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Practical Action's staff in Bangladesh and Nepal blog about how filtering contaminated water helps poor communities.

Safer cities

How Practical Action is bringing safe drinking water, free from iron and arsenic contamination, to slum communities in Bangladesh

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Khamba’s story: filtering his way to progress

How Practical Action's training helped a Nepali man build simple filtration systems to remove arsenic from contaminated water.

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