Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Targeting Low-Arsenic Groundwater with Mobile-Phone Technology in Araihazar, Bangladesh

Academic journal article Journal of Health Population and Nutrition

Targeting Low-Arsenic Groundwater with Mobile-Phone Technology in Araihazar, Bangladesh

Article excerpt


Elevated concentrations of arsenic in groundwater of Bangladesh were first reported in 1993 (1). Broader-scale sampling and laboratory testing subsequently established the regional extent of the problem (1,2). These surveys, drawn from a small fraction (~0.1 %) of existing wells, guided the selection of a sub-set of 269 of 490 upazilas where a blanket survey of million tubewells, coordinated under the Bangladesh Arsenic Mitigation and Water Supply Program (BAMWSP), was carried out by various organizations, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). For logistical reasons, these blanket surveys have relied on field-kits rather than laboratory measurements. Nearly five million field-kit results, compiled by the BAMWSP, as of May 2005, provide the most extensive and detailed representation of the spatial distribution of arsenic in groundwater of Bangladesh to date (Fig. 1a). Maps drawn based on the BAMWSP data to show the proportion of unsafe wells in each surveyed upazila are broadly consistent with previous surveys (we refer in this paper to the status of a well relative to the Bangladesh standard of 50 [micro]g/L arsenic in drinking-water, unless the World Health Organization (WHO)'s guideline value of 10 [micro]g/L is specified). The purpose of the present study was to show that the large quantity of field-kit data compiled by the National Arsenic Mitigation Information Center (NAMIC; and disseminated by the BAMWSP could be used for targeting those aquifers that are low in arsenic when examined at the village level. The paper also describes how the BAMWSP data can be accessed and updated from the field using mobile-phone technology that is readily available in Bangladesh.


Despite its scale, the impact of the blanket-testing campaign is not well-known because responses of households to well-testing have rarely been quantified. Response surveys, conducted in Columbia University's study area of Araihazar upazila, indicate that blanket-testing led roughly half the affected households to switch their consumption of water away from those wells that were identified as unsafe (3-5). While this represents a very significant benefit of well-testing, the same observations also showed that a significant number of households did not stop drinking water from their wells after learning that it was unsafe. The premise of this study is that the installation of one (or several) safe community well(s) in the most-affected villages holds particular promise to reach those remaining households. Our experiences in Araihazar suggest that the benefit of such installations can be direct in the sense that safe water is provided to households living within walking distance of a community well, but also indirect because a successful installation serves as a guide to the installation of safe private wells to the same depth that are likely to follow (5,6).

Safe community wells could over time be connected to the rural piped-water supply systems, although we believe that priority should be given to providing point-sources of safe water throughout the country. We do not claim that alternative approaches to arsenic mitigation, such as shallow dugwells, arsenic removal from groundwater, treatment of surface water, or collection of rainwater, have no role to play in Bangladesh (7,8). We merely point out that these alternatives are a more radical departure from the current household practice of relying primarily on shallow tubewells to obtain drinking-water compared to switching over to a deeper community well.

An argument against continued reliance on tubewells of any sort is that concentrations of arsenic in groundwater could increase over time. Various mechanisms that could lead to such an increase have been proposed but have not been substantiated by systematic observations (9-11). The most troubling evidence of increases in arsenic concentrations over time comes from West Bengal where a same set of wells were sampled five years apart (10, 12). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.