Sunday, May 10, 2009

The meaning of red colors in Deara poor community

by: Toni Kaatz-Dubberke

As I enter Deara poor community I feel like visiting a village in the rural sites. The houses are made from bamboo and tin, colored green or blue in some patches. Between the homes of about 300 families, there is space to walk and grow some cattle, the place is surrounded by vegetable fields. The green trees hanging over the Chitaloka River give me a romantic impression of the place. As romantic the river looks, people can not use the water for drinking purposes. Garment and dyeing industries located nearby feed their effluents into the river and pollute it in a way so that even swimming in it is not a pleasure. Community members mainly extract their water from tube wells from shallow aquifers.

(above: red marked tube well indicates the presence of arsenic)
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When they show me the tube wells I realize that most of them are painted red. In fact this color is much more connected to the people’s fate than the green of the trees and fields. As always, red means something dangerous. The tube wells have been marked by Pourashava water experts to indicate the presence of something invisible: arsenic.The shallow layers of ground water, where most of the tube wells extract the water from are poisoned by this country-wide known affliction. Arsenic is not only without color but also without smell and taste. The fact that it is not immediately observable makes it difficult to avoid its consumption. If arsenic is present in excess in the drinking water, it has a toxic effect on the human body. When it enters into the body, parts of it are deposited in the skin, hair and nails, where it is firmly bound to keratin. It can take months and years until the poisoning of the body is visible but then it might be too late to do anything against it. To date there is no proper clinical treatment.The people of Deara are aware of the meaning of red-colored tube wells. Skin diseases and other consequences of arsenic over-consumption are rarely appearing due to the fact that people try to minimize drinking from it, Mizanur Rahman, member of the local community organization (CDC) tells me. But people still use the water from the red tube wells for washing and cooking purposes due to a lack of alternatives. The temptation to drink every now and then from it is of course always present.

(above: dissolved iron from this tube well is deposited on the ground)
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Another disturbing substance that comes from the ground water is easier to avoid. Dissolved iron is present in excess as well in the whole Narayanganj region. Because of its bad taste and odor, people are reluctant to drink it. “We can not even wash clothes with it because the iron is destroying the fabric”, one woman that stands next to the tube well says. On top of that, the polluted water has a red shade which shows the presence of iron in it. Water with iron contents also comes from a red marked tube well in Deara. Therefore some people wrongly assume that the red shade of the iron is somehow connected to arsenic. There is at least one new tube well within the poor community that is drilled deep enough to extract clean and safe drinking water.

(above: Mizanur Rahman in front of his plot holding the tap where clean water comes out for free every day)
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Another option to collect safe water lays on the way to the community’s mosque. Mizanur Rahman is not a poor man. In fact his family is financially very well situated. He has been living in Narayanganj next to the mosque of the Deara community for four years now. Mizanur’s business is ready made garments. His richer brother lives in Singapore. I meet him on front of his plot which is five minutes to walk from the poor part of the community. Two taps that are standing out of the red colored wall attract my attention. Inside the plot of Mizanur a deep drilled tube well extracts clean water from the ground and an engine pumps it into a 5000 liter tank to store. Every day in the morning, water from that tank flows for free one hour long. For the poor people of Deara, it is a chance to get big red buckets filled with safe drinking water. Mizanur enables himself to establish good relationships with community members. For me as a visitor it is the chance to learn about the meaning of red at this place.

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