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Natural arsenic contamination of groundwater resources in parts of Asia is posing a serious threat to the health of millions of people. The issue of contaminated drinking-water has been taken up by governments and development partners and many efforts are under way to mitigate the problem. However, the same water resources are used extensively for irrigation purposes throughout the region too. Over the last few years, questions have been raised by governments, the general public and development partners about the possible risks of irrigating with arsenic-contaminated water and about mitigation options.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO-RAP) has therefore prepared this technical report to provide insight into the behaviour of arsenic in food and agriculture, and to evaluate available knowledge of the effects of irrigating with arsenic-contaminated water on crop production and food safety in Asia. The focus is on Bangladesh, where most studies on arsenic contaminated irrigation water have been carried out. It is also the country with the most serious arsenic contamination crisis in the drinking-water sector. Throughout the report, specific attention is given to rice because it is the most important staple crop in Asia, and it is one of the crops most sensitive to arsenic contamination.

Information provided in this report is based on peer-reviewed publications in international journals and on discussions with experts from various organizations. In particular, Professor A.A. Meharg, University of Aberdeen, and Dr G.M. Panaullah, The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Bangladesh, are acknowledged. From FAO, Sasha Koo-Oshima (Water Quality and Environment Officer), Zhijun Chen (Water Resources Development and Conservation Officer) and Thierry Facon (Senior Water Management Officer) are acknowledged for their valuable technical inputs and reviewing the draft report.

Arsenic contamination of irrigation water, soil and crops in Bangladesh: Risk implications for sustainable agriculture and food safety in Asia

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific