Everyone deserves clean water
Living in the UK I have never needed to consider whether the water is clean enough to drink. I can always go and turn on the tap and fill my glass with water. This is sadly not the case with a very large proportion of people around the world. Some people may have to walk many miles every day to get water and that water is not always very good but without it they cannot live.
As I have visited Pakistan a couple of times and knowing that the water is not safe to drink I have looked into the subject. I always bought bottled water but not everyone is able to afford that.
If we think of a poison like arsenic, for example, we think of it as something used to commit murder and it is believed that the arsenic used in wallpaper paste is what contributed to Napoleon's death.
It is a fact, though, that arsenic is in the drinking water of many hundreds of thousands of people. Arsenic is a chemical which occurs naturally in the earth and it is
widely distributed over the globe.
There are 2 types of arsenic, organic and inorganic. The organic
arsenic has extremely low toxicity but in water it is inorganic and
this is more hazardous.
In Asia the Ganges delta has high concentrations of arsenic
particularly in Bangladesh and West Bengal. Also areas in Punjab
among them Sahiwal, Kasur, Multan and Lahore.
Drinking water used to be drawn from rivers and ponds, the arsenic
was almost non-existent but the water was contaminated with diseases
such as diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, cholera and hepatitis.
Programmes to provide safe drinking water through tube wells have
helped to control these illnesses but an unexpected side-effect has
It is not clear how the arsenic is released into the water but recent
studies suggest that certain bacteria may be the cause.
Recent research has found that the geochemical conditions which give
rise to the problem in the Ganges delta are not anomalies or unusual
and may occur in recent alluvial deposits such as river deltas.
The effects of drinking arsenic affected water are skin disorders
such as hyperpigmentation, depigmentation and keratosis, and vascular
disorders such as Blackfoot Disease or gangrene which is caused by disease of the blood vessels. This is endemic in south-west
Taiwan. In time skin cancer may develop and internal cancers such as
bladder, liver, kidney and lung cancers. It has been found that cancer takes about 10 years to develop. Cardiovascular and neurological diseases have also been found to be linked to arsenic ingestion.
In Lahore the arsenic in the water is causing bone deformities,
mainly to the legs and spine, especially in children, who suffer
crippling deformities causing acute pain and in some cases inability
to walk. Many children suffer from yellow, pitted teeth and skin
ailments. It used to be attributed to too much fluoride in the water
but even though this has improved the problem persists in some places
where there are large arsenic levels.
Here is an article from the Dawn newspaper in 2004
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