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  • Paromita Basak, AUW Youth Mappers Bangladesh

Mapping Arsenic Contamination - Youth Mappers at AUW Bangladesh

Why create a mapping Project on Arsenic?

Arsenic poisoning from drinking water in Bangladesh has already been identified as one of the world’s greatest humanitarian disasters. According to Chemists without Borders, an international organization which has been working with arsenic issues of Bangladesh for years, “Out of 150 million people of Bangladesh, 35-77 million people are at risk from arsenic contamination of water. It is estimated that between 1-5 million children are at risk of death by arsenicosis by 2030.” This makes it clear that arsenic poisoning is a serious problem which needs to be tackled as soon as possible. The issues surrounding arsenic poisoning mean that it is very important for the citizens and government of Bangladesh to learn which places and wells are contaminated with arsenic. This project aims to gather field data from deep tubewells in Barayadala, Sitakunda which has been recently found out to be a highly affected arsenic area. This data will be converted into visual representation as maps which will help the government and non-government organisations to locate affected areas. This allows them to plan for the provision of safe drinking water and delivery routes for the people living in that community.

What has a HOT Microgrant meant to the Community?

This HOT microgrant is helping us to address one of the most important issues in our country. Whilst there has been a substantial amount of research into arsenic poisoning within Bangladesh, as of yet, there have been no mapping projects led by students. Our work is not only helping arsenic-affected communities to access safe drinking water in the future, it is also setting an example of the many ways mapping can be beneficial to solve similar issues. Other environmental and humanitarian problems like this can be solved through community mapping. By using this grant, we are setting a precedent which other university students can follow and, through mapping, they can solve other similar problems within their communities.

What contribution has this project made towards women’s empowerment?

This project is very different to other projects because it is led by the only all women’s chapter of YouthMappers in the world. Although Bangladesh is a country which is yet to achieve gender equality in all societal spheres, a project like this is highlighting examples of women’s empowerment. As part of this project, we have members participating from different countries working both remotely and in the field regarding data collection and mapping. There were instances when our members were talking with the community in regards to the dangerous impacts of the highly arsenic-contaminated wells, and they were very surprised that it was all women leading the project. This has inspired women from the locality to come forward and learn about arsenic testing. Upon finishing the project, we believe this is a milestone for women mappers in developing countries like Bangladesh.

What are the results and community impacts of the project so far?

We have held mapathons and field trips for this project which were done by the AUW YouthMappers. We have conducted workshops and taught over 200 high school students of the area about Arsenic, its impact on human health, mapping, and how mapping can solve these kind of problems. Participants also got basic workshop training on OSM, how it works and how they can use this platform. We have built a team of interested volunteers from these students who are actively helping us to collect and test the arsenic samples and to determine the coordinates of the affected wells. Moreover, they are teaching their peers and community members what they are learning from us which is creating awareness in their local communities.

So far, we have valid data of 30+ wells. All of these well not only exceeded the WHO safe arsenic limit of 10ppb (parts per billion), but also exceeded the Bangladesh limit which is 50ppb. The alarming fact is that, not only do the wells exceed the 100ppb level, most of the wells show Arsenic contamination within the 250-500ppb range. Even if there have been no recent cases of Arsenicosis in the area, the bioaccumulation of this contaminant in their body may lead to fatal diseases, such as, liver failure, lung cancer and so on. Because of this, our project and this grant is incredibly important to the community so that proper measures can be taken based on the maps and they can gain access to safe drinking water.

What are we hoping to achieve in the future from this project?

We are collaborating with the international organization “Chemist Without Borders” who will actively work in the region to solve this problem. We are also planning to contact respected government organizations and help them to set up a safe water route with the help of our map. This mapping project is also including the local communities. This not only makes them aware of the arsenic problem and its effects but also how mapping can be a way of tackling local issues. We are working with high school students and training them about both Arsenic testing and mapping. For a rural areas, it is proving to be a very positive change. The students that did not have any previous experience of mapping, are now able to take coordinates and help the team to map them. The students are learning technical knowledge that are improving their skills beyond their imagination.

At the end of this project, we aim to bring a positive change which will make a difference in the community so that they can live in a safe and protected environment.

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