Fate of Arsenic
Arsenic Crisis Today-
A Strategy for Tomorrow
A Roundtable Discussion
3 July 2001, Dhaka, Bangladesh
UNU collaborated with UNICEF and NGO Earth Identity Project (EIP) to organize this meeting of various stakeholders. It helped in the development of an emergency policy to tackle with the crisis and identifying long-term policies. A news release describing the meeting is available. The resolution adopted at the meeting is provided here.
A policy brief was also developed by UNU in partnership with EIP. The elements of the policy brief are also available.
This resolution of commitment is the result of day-long deliberations at a Roundtable on arsenic crisis held on 3rd July 2001 in Dhaka, Bangladesh involving Government, NGOs, development partners and the private sector.
Roundtable Discussion titled "Arsenic Today - Strategy for Tomorrow", jointly organized by United Nations University, Japan and NGO Earth Identity Project. This Meeting was inaugurated by the Hob'ble Speaker of the National Parliament Mr. Humayun Rasheed Choudhury. The Opening session was also attended by Dr. Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, Hon'ble State Minister for Planning, Prof. M. Amanullah, Hon'ble State Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Hon'ble Deputy Minister for LGRD and Ms. Shahida Azfar, Country Representative of UNICEF. The Meeting was also attended by Govt. officials, Donors, Diplomats, NGOs, Health Workers and all other stakeholders and representatives of the popular media.
The Roundtable Meeting was divided into four sessions. The sessions were chaired by Hon'ble State Minister for Planning Dr. Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, Mr. Hasnat Abdul Hai, Hob'ble State Minister for Health & Family Welfare Dr. M. Amanullah, Mrs. Hasna Maudood and Hon'ble Deputy Minister for LGRD, Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury. The moderators were Ambassador Waliur Rahman, Dr. Zafar Adeel, Mrs. Hasna Moudud, Mr. Enayetullah Khan and Ms. Yasmeen Murshed respectively.
The Roundtable Discussion particularly expressed its deep gratitude to Hon'ble Speaker Mr. Humayun Rasheed Choudhury for his gracious statement as a former 41ST President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) that he will write to the President of UNGA and the Secretary General of United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan to consider holding a special session at the UN, to discuss the threat of arsenic contamination to millions of people, not only in Bangladesh, but throughout the world.
At the meeting it was also agreed, that the statement of the Hon'ble speaker should be supported by special efforts to ensure that the arsenic crisis is placed in the agenda of the forthcoming session of UNGA, to be held in September 2001.
The magnitude, complexity, severity and urgency of the situation demands a coordinated and integrated action plan. 61 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh have been affected and it is estimated that at least 24 million people are at risk of suffering from arsenicosis, making this crisis the largest incidence of mass poisoning in the world today. All concerned must act now, there is no time to lose in this race against time.
During the deliberations, the revised strategy of the Government of Bangladesh was endorsed. This strategy involves redefining the role of BAMWSP where it acts as an umbrella for facilitating and coordinating all activities.
The importance of strategic partnerships and linkages involving the Government, private sector, NGOs and the donor community was also fully endorsed.
The speakers endorsed the programme based approach of the Government in responding to the arsenic crisis. In depth research and development is essential to address a number of critical issues. Monitoring, evaluating and upgrading of all options offered must be done periodically. Similarly, monitoring of water quality should also be undertaken on a regular and sustainable basis.
The Group also endorsed development of appropriate facilities for treatment of arsenicosis patients.
Local Government institutions will have to play a pivotal role in motivating and empowering communities to make their own choices from a range of safe water options. A number of chemical and non-chemical technologies have been approved by the Technical Advisory Group under BAMWSP. For maximum effectiveness, the technologies chosen should be sustainable, simple, and affordable and have a high level of community acceptance.
The media's role in awareness raising is vital. Inter-action with the media is essential for reaching out to the general public at the grass-root level. This should also help create awareness of the arsenic crisis at the international level.
Bangladesh's credentials in disaster management over the past few years have been lauded and recognized internationally and an adequate and appropriate response to the arsenic crisis will place huge demands in terms of its ability to counter this crisis.
All participants in this Roundtable Discussion agreed to use all available means at their disposal to mitigate the arsenic problem in Bangladesh. A declaration of an Arsenic Mitigation Day was endorsed.