The terms myopia and myopic (or the common terms short sightedness or short sighted) have also been used metaphorically to refer to cognitive thinking and decision making that is narrow sighted or lacking in concern for wider interests or longer-term consequences.” -Wikipedia (8/9/09)
I started to think about this term after reading a paper from Environmental Health Perspectives called Public Health Strategies for Western Bangladesh That Address Arsenic, Manganese, Uranium, and Other Toxic Elements in Drinking Water. The authors of this paper sampled a number of tube wells in Western Bangladesh to investigate the water quality, not only with respect to Arsenic but an array of other potential toxicants. They found levels exceeding WHO health-based drinking water guidelines for Uranium, Manganese, Arsenic, Chromium, and Lead along with significant levels of other important elements like Antimony. Why is this interesting one may ask?
After drilling millions of tube wells to save people from the morbidity and mortality related to gastrointestinal illnesses, UN agencies and the Bangladesh Government realized that they had exposed millions of people to arsenic. This arsenic shifted the causes of illness and death related to water to other ailments like cancer (lung/bladder/skin). Most of you know how this happened but in case you don’t…They simply didn’t test the water for Arsenic!!!
With so much focus on dealing with the arsenic problem, are we forgetting about other potential toxicants in the water? This study seems to suggest we may be – at least in some parts of Bangladesh. The government of Bangledesh is focused on testing each and every well for As but does not look at many of these other elements mentioned in the article (it should be noted that Arsenic probably poses the biggest threat to the population but the possible effects of the others are by no means negligible). The authors note that in wells exceeding limits for As Uranium was not often found in quantities above the limit. However, the household treatment technology that many use to remove arsenic could actually increase the dissolved Uranium concentration (by making otherwise insoluble form soluble)….
This type of myopia happens all the time the water and sanitation sector. We want to focus only on provision of clean water but don’t want to think about the multiple other pathways for enteric pathogen transmission. We focus on toilets but forget that there is no readily accessible water to wash hands….Hopefully it won’t take another mass poisoning for us to wake up and look at the big picture.
Check out the article it is pretty interesting (oh and try to estimate the carbon footprint of the samples that made their way from India to Dubai to France to Vermont,USA)