Arsenic contamination of water toxic to Bangladesh economy: Study

Washington, Dec 01 (ANI): An international team of economists has stated that arsenic contamination of drinking water in Bangladesh has now been shown to have an immediate and toxic effect on the struggling nation's economy.

The well-reported contamination of water is already called the 'largest mass poisoning of a population in history' by the World Health Organization and known to be responsible for a host of slow-developing diseases.

The team is the first to identify a dramatic present-day consequence of the contaminated groundwater wells, in addition to the longer-term damages expected to occur in coming years.

The reports states that exposure to arsenic in rural Bangladesh is poisonous to the nation's economy, reducing the labor supply by 8 percent.

"This is a very large effect. Larger than the increase in unemployment in the United States from the 'Great Recession'," said lead author Richard Carson, professor of economics at the University of California, San Diego.

Bangladesh is a poor country and many of its citizens have limited access to healthcare and health insurance. Most families have to fend for themselves.

As a result, the researchers noted, women older than 45 are working fewer hours outside the home while men aged 25 to 65 are working more.

"Essentially, what we think is happening is that grandma stays home to take care of the sick people while all the able-bodied men are working longer hours to compensate," said Carson.

The present study uses a novel method that, according to Carson and his coauthors, could be applied to discovering the effects of other environmental pollutants in developing nations, sooner.

For their study, Carson and colleagues looked at the relationship between arsenic exposure and hours worked by households as reported in the Bangladesh government's standard survey used for this purpose.

Their sample included 4,259 rural households from the Household Income and Expenditure Survey carried out by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2000 and was matched with data on arsenic contamination from a large-scale study done by the British Geological Survey.

The study's approach, Carson said, is a methodological advance that could potentially help many other public health efforts.

Bangladesh is most severely affected by arsenic pollution of its groundwater. But it is a worldwide problem, with impacts in the West Bengal part of India and parts of Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Argentina and Chile. There are problems in some areas of the United States, too.

The research is published online in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. (ANI)

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