Pact to rid Tarai water of arsenic

Kathmandu, June 3:

The government, along with three international partners, will spend over one million dollars over the coming 18 months to mitigate the adverse effect of arsenic, a type of carcinogenic mineral found in most of groundwater in Tarai.

A Memorandum of Understanding to this effect was signed today between the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage and three UN organisations.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) agreed to support Nepal, pledging a fund of over $1,182,192. The fund will be spent on 20 arsenic-prone districts by the end of 2008.

As per the MoU, the DWSS shall allocate Rs 27,692,000 ($395,600) to purchase test kit reagents, arsenic removal options/components and supplies for new wells.

The UN-HABITAT shall contribute $303,661 to support the cost of training, well testing, supervision, monitoring and entry of information into the arsenic management information

database; support public information dissemination; and supply arsenic removal filter components.

The WHO shall contribute $28,000 to support capacity building for arsenicosis screening and management and develop district surveillance and patient referral systems according to the

attached Project Proposal and Budget.

The UNICEF shall contribute $302,931 to support the cost of well testing, supervision and monitoring, verification tests, material for reinstalling wells, installation of filters and dissemination of test results in the districts. The project will conduct tests in around 350,000 wells. It will cover around 3.5 million people through well-testing and 135,000 people through arsenic mitigation.

Dr Roshan Raj Shrestha, chief technical adviser to the UN-HABITAT, said that the overall aim of the project is to address the problem of arsenic contamination in drinking water in 20 Tarai districts, through a programme of blanket testing of all wells providing drinking water, provide and promote options to avoid arsenic contaminated water or remove arsenic from drinking water and identify arsenic affected persons and support the case management of arsenicosis patients.

The MoU was signed by Ishwor Man Tamrakar, director general of the DWSS, Atoine King, the director of Programme Support Division of the UN-HABITAT, Han Heijnen, the

Environmental Health Advisor of WHO and Larry Robertson, the chief of CWE Section of the UNICEF.

Over the last three years, the testing activities have been scaled up through DWSS (with UNICEF support) and up to March 2007, over 637,000 wells have been tested in 13 districts.

Out of this, 8 per cent of the wells showed concentrations higher than the WHO guideline value of 10 ppb, whereas around 2.3 per cent of the wells exceeded the Nepali Interim Standard of 50 ppb. Based on these test results, it is estimated that over one million people living in Tarai districts may be drinking water with an arsenic concentration higher than the WHO guideline, and nearly 300,000 people are using arsenic contaminated water higher than the government’s interim guideline value of 50 ppb.