During the 1970s, international aid agencies came up with a brilliant plan to stem a plague of water-borne illnesses in the Asian country of Bangladesh. They would underwrite the installation of wells in disease-troubled villages, tapping into the cleaner ground water below.
They would use simple, relatively inexpensive tube wells, place thousands of these over-sized drinking straws into the shallow aquifers. And these straws - millions of them - would suck up the cleaner, microorganism free water in healthy abundance.
At first, it seemed to work like a blessing. Infant mortality rates dropped by 50 percent as the rate of dysentery, typhoid and chlolera dropped. But by the mid-1990s, a strange epidemic of other illnesses began to appear - some symptoms rather like cholera (lethargy, severe stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea), but others wickedly their own: such as a roughening and darkening of skin, a corrosion appearance of lesions on hands and feet:
In fact, as a team of increasingly angry researchers from adjacent India concluded in 1995: classic symptoms of arsenic poisoning.
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