Widespread poisoning

Published: Wednesday 31 March 2004

-- Arsenic has contaminated groundwater in over 12 districts of Pakistan's Punjab and Sindh provinces. The groundwater of the region was declared "dangerous" by the Pakistan Council for Research on Water Resources, which has conducted detailed studies and sub-soil water analysis in collaboration with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Arsenic was discovered when UNICEF began installing over 20,000 handpumps for drinking water in the rural areas of Punjab. A study on arsenic-related skin lesions among the affected people in the districts showed the presence of combined arsenicosis (established and borderline cases).

However, when the agency informed the government, it was told to keep the findings to itself. A separate investigation has also been conducted into the matter. Its findings, too, are disturbing. But a provincial government official discloses that the report cannot be made public. In the meantime, people continue to drink poisonous water in vast areas. For its part, UNICEF intends to set up filtration plants in the affected areas with funds from international sources.

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