Friday, June 14, 2024

Arsenic found in rice: Food security at risk

A paper released yesterday has revealed that the country’s food security is at risk due to threats of arsenic contamination in groundwater and food chains posing severe health hazards to millions of people.
This was revealed at the launching ceremony of a publication titled “Towards an arsenic safe environment in Bangladesh” organised jointly by the United Nations and the government of Bangladesh marking World Water Day at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre yesterday.
Addressing the function Matia Chowdhury underlined the  need for creating awareness among the people about  the adverse effect of arsenic contamination.
She said the government of prime minister Sheikh Hasina  had  already taken steps to control arsenic contamination. It was committed to bring down the level of arsenic contamination through collective efforts.  In  this context, she said steps had already been taken  to ensure  proper management of surface water, including rainwater conservation.
LGRD and Cooperatives  minister Sayed Asharful Islam  said,  “As we celebrate World Water Day with the theme of “Clean water for a healthy world”, it is time to take some new plans in order to provide arsenic-free water to the 20 million people who are still at risk.”
Dr. A. Atiq Rahman, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced  Studies (BCAS)  made a presentation on the key issues mentioned in the publication.
There are outlines of  some of the most recent research and data regarding the country’s prevailing  arsenic problem  from different aspects  including  health, water supply and agriculture in the publication.
In addition to water, recent data from the southwestern districts of Bangladesh indicated that rice irrigated with arsenic-contaminated water also contained arsenic.
The average daily intake of arsenic from rice for a Bangladeshi adult is estimated at approximately 100 micrograms.
A recent survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF revealed that 12.6  per cent of the households equivalent to about 20 million people still drink water containing arsenic.
Scientists have identified emerging threats in the health sector of arsenic, which can significantly increase mortality  rate from  diseases like  cancer, heart ailments and cardio-pulmonary diseases, it was revealed in Dr. Atiq Rahman’s paper.
Ms. Renata Lok Dessallien, UN Resident Coordinator said that urgent action was needed to re-focus the attention of the nation towards an arsenic safe environment.
A set of  recommendations were  made to address the issues posed by arsenic contamination in the country.
Agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury, health minister Dr AFM Ruhal Haque and UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh Renata Lok Dessallien attended the launching ceremony.
UNB adds: The agriculture minister, however, contested the findings of arsenic in the food chains saying that tampering had been done everywhere suggesting arsenic in rice and vegetables. “The reality should be understood and we’ve to think considering our own reality,” she said.
Mentioning arsenic contamination in groundwater found in the early 90s, health minister Dr Ruhal Haque said the government was addressing the issues of arsenic problems under health and nutritional programmes.
Medical professionals, including doctors and health assistants, and also non-medical staffs had been trained to properly deal with the patients with arsenic problems.
‘Towards an Arsenic Safe Environment in Bangladesh’ also recommends taking arsenic monitoring and screening system in all sectors while overall coordination is essential to ensure that mitigation in one sector does not negatively affect efforts made in other sectors.
Three UN agencies- FAO, UNICEF and WHO- along with Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) of the World Bank have been providing continued support to the government in addressing the unprecedented challenge of arsenic contamination.
The support included several large scale initiatives to provide access to alternative safe drinking water supplies, research into health impacts, patient management, and arsenic presence in food chain; capacity building through training of health sectors and water supply sector staff, and strengthening of institutional capacity.

Courtesy of The Independent

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