Queen's leads water-tight training in India

July 28, 2009

A team of scientists at Queen's University has been chosen to lead a top research and training programme to prevent groundwater poisoning in India.

More than 70 million people in Eastern India and Bangladesh experience involuntary exposure to the poisonous chemical arsenic, from consuming water and rice. This includes farmers who have to use contaminated groundwater for minor irrigation schemes.

It is estimated that for every random sample of 100 people in the Bengal Delta, at least one person will be near death as a result of arsenic poisoning, while five in 100 will be experiencing other symptoms.

Last year Queen's scientists created low-cost technology that provides arsenic-free water to affected areas. The technology was developed by a team of European and Indian engineers led by Dr Bhaskar Sengupta from the University.

Queen's has now been announced as a provider of training to thousands of people who will learn how to use the equipment and improve environmental conditions.

Dr Harold Johnston, Director of Education of Civil Engineering at Queen's, also helped develop the training programme in Kolkata and Jamshedpur.

The programme is supported by the British Council under the prestigious Development Partnerships in Higher Education Programme (Delphe).

Dr Sengupta, who is co-ordinating the project, said: "This initiative will help to train more than 1,000 people over the next three years in Eastern India in a novel chemical-free arsenic removal method.

"Arsenic poisoning is behind many instances of ill-health in Asia, including a number of cancer cases. Developing a low cost method of decontaminating groundwater that is laced with high levels of arsenic is a key challenge for sustainable agriculture in the region.

"The training programme developed by Queen's is the only method which is eco-friendly, easy to use and deliverable to the rural community user at an affordable cost."

Dr Satish Kumar, Director of the India Initiative at Queen's, said: "The theory behind community-based natural resource management argues that the best way to manage natural resources is for the local people to use their knowledge and technologies. The issue of deeply entrenched arsenic contamination of groundwater in Kolkata and indeed in large parts of West Bengal calls for an approach where the local population are empowered to engage with this new technology."

Queen's University Belfast

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