Arsenic project lives on despite
govt-WB rift

Naimul Haq

The government has decided to continue with the Bangladesh Arsenic Mitigation Water Supply Project (BAMWSP), which expired yesterday, by injecting Tk 32 crore from the public exchequer.

The Tk 189 crore project has so far failed to meet most of its targets as millions of arsenic-affected people continue to suffer.

The government refused to give in to the pressure by the World Bank (WB) to retain the project director it replaced a week ago.

A WB high official indicated that the four-year project would not continue. However, the bank took no decision in this regard till filing of this report at 10:45pm.

A meeting was supposed to be held between the WB and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development yesterday. However, it fell through as the state minister for local government and rural development ministry declined to meet the WB officials.

The project, launched in February 1998 and jointly financed by the government, Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) and the WB, aimed to find and provide alternative sources of safe drinking water in the face of naturally occurring arsenic contamination.

"The bank officials expressed reluctance in financing the project any longer as it did not produce expected output. In four years the project utilised $6.74 million which is 21 per cent of the total money for mitigation activities which virtually did not reach the target people.

"Besides, the pace of the work was too slow and our development partners were not happy with the progress," said a WB official, requesting anonymity.

Earlier, last month the government had urged the World Bank to extend the project till June 2003. But the bank agreed to extend it up to March.

Any conclusion in the shape of discontinuation of financing the project will put fate of millions of people in uncertainty as they continue drinking arsenic-affected water from millions of contaminated hand-pumped tubewells.

At present, about 85 million people in 61 districts of the country are exposed to arsenic contamination in water.

The WB source also said that most of the BAMWSP work remained incomplete and the problem of arsenic victims could not be solved as agreed in the agreement.

The bank yesterday evening indicated that the BAMWSP could not be continued, as the resources were not ulitised as agreed.

In December last year, a WB evaluation report on the project found implementation of some of its major activities 'extremely slow'.

In terms of mitigation, the main goal of the project, the report carried out by a team of the WB and the SDC from December 2 to 11, observed that 'mitigation activities remain inadequate. Only 59 out of 714 mitigation schemes had been completed'.

The project had "not initiated any action to mitigate contamination in 11 municipalities where arsenic has been detected in production wells", it said.

In view of the slow progress the mission had recommended improvement in five critical areas - acceleration of screening and mitigation programme, establishment of strategic partnership, monitoring and evaluation of arsenic mitigation initiatives, implementation of communication strategies and development of longer term pragmatic approach to arsenic mitigation.

A meeting between the government and the WB to decide fate of the project may be held today.

Source: The Daily Star, October 1, 2002.

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