With landscape view of long paddy fields, lush green trees, bushes and clustered houses, the Baheratoli is truly representing a traditional village of rural Bangladesh.
At a first sight anyone will have an experience of tranquility, serenity and peace at the village, located near the border of Indian hilly province Meghalaya and distant from Bangladesh’s Sunamganj district town.
But people of the village which is home to some 20 adivasi families are not in peace. The scenic beauty does carry any meaning to them, rather they are waiting for their last days with their near and dear ones.
Completely opposite to the beauty of the surface land, there is a silent killer under the earth of the village. And that killer is Arsenic, a poisonous substance mixed in the water they drink.
The village’s most of the people have been suffering from various illnesses for long due to drinking underground water contaminated with arsenic.
“In recent days, I feel severe headaches, drowsiness, vomiting, cramping muscles and stomach pain,” said arsenicosis affected Jaharlal Banai.
By showing his palm lines, he said: “Now a days, I cannot hold anything. I cannot do any work.”
“I do not know what happened to me. But I do not have enough money to get treatment for the problem I am suffering from,” he said.
“I am a poor man. What will happen to me and to my family members if I can not work?” said Jaharlal.
Like the 45-year-old Jaharlal, many families of the village of Dharmapasha upazila have no other alternative to drinking contaminated water as 80 percent of the tube wells in the village are contaminated.
The villagers who are affected by arsenic are gradually losing their physical strength to work.
In a recent visit to the village, the Dhaka Tribune learned that there are 70 members of the adivasi people at the village. Of them 14 are affected by arsenicosis.
Dilip Banai, 30, Pabitra Banai, 35, Kemnath Banai, 60, Ahendra Banai, 26, Kalpana Banai, 28, Malanti Banai, 43, Shapna Banai, 38, Jagoran Banai,22, Rubila Banai,32, Surojini Banai,44, Binoy Banai,31, Kunjila Banai,42, are among the affected people of the community.
Most of the people are ultra poor and have lack of education. They are not aware of severity of the problem.
Suranjan Sarkar, a health worker at Dakshin Bankshikunda Union Health Complex, said some 12 arsenicosis affected people of the community had been given treatment at Dharmapasha Upazila Health Complex.
Malanti Banai,43, is still suffering from pain in different parts of his body, despite taking treatment at the health complex.
“We are poor people. We have to remain starved if we do not work for a single day. How will we take treatment?” said Suryamoni Banai, a resident of the village.
The villagers keep continue drinking water and are using it in their household works, despite the fact that it will speed up their death.
“We use the water as there is no other alternative to us. The scarcity of water go high during the dry season,” said Pabitra Banai, a resident of the village.
“Doctors gave me some tablets and advised to eat green vegetables,” said Punjila Banai,40.
“I do not have the ability even buying vegetables. So, I am gradually going toward death,” he said with a blank eye.
M Abdur Rob, sub-assistant engineer at the department of public health and engineering at Dharmapasha upazila, said the underground water contain around 400ppb to 500ppb (per parts billion) arsenic and irons in the areas of Selbors, Paikurati, and Uttar Bonkshikunda.
Immediate necessary steps should be taken to avoid outbreak of arsenicosis in the area, he said.
“Installing a water treatment plant and providing the people with clean water can be a measure to solve problem,” he said.
Sudip Kumar Bhatcharia, an assistant health inspector at the Uttar Bankshikunda Union, said they could not monitor the arsenic problem at village as it is located in vary remote area.
M Jamal Hossain, chairman of the Uttar Bankshikunda Union Parishad, said he was aware of the problem. But he did not inform the matter to upazila administration.
Engineer Abdul Majed, project manager of Asia Arsenic Network, a non-government organisaiton in Dharmapasha upazila, said the water in almost 80 per cent tub-wells contain arsenic and iron in the upazila.
Dr Nishit Nandi Majumdar, the civil surgeon in Sujamganj, said they send experts of health department to the arsenic affected areas. Necessary steps will be taken immediately following reports of the experts, he said.