Tuesday 31 August 1999

A newly-formed organisation in Bangladesh, Forum for Arsenic Patients (fap), has threatened to sue the United Nations Children's Fund (unicef) for compensation on behalf of millions of unsuspecting victims of arsenic poisoning. The hand-pump system, introduced to wean the vast majority of Bangladeshis off contaminated surface water, was identified as the main cause of large-scale diarrhoea-related deaths in the 1970s and 1980s.

The fap has accused the un body of aiding, what experts say could be, the biggest mass poisoning in human history. Of the 30,000 wells dug in Bangladesh by unicef to provide safe water, 63 per cent were found contaminated by arsenic. "We are aware of the move. We will decide on our course of action when it happens," a unicef spokesperson in Dhaka said.

According to Iftekar Hussain, manager of the arsenic mitigation programme under Dhaka's ministry of health and family welfare, some of the country's top lawyers will represent the forum. However, critics say that apart from holding meetings and seminars, nothing concrete has been done so far for the victims.

Angola is the riskiest place for children to live in, according to a new report by unicef. And it is wars like Angola's that are preventing the eradication of polio. War not only cut shorts immunisation programmes, it also creates conditions in which the virus spreads more rapidly, says unicef. .

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