Background: Columbia University and partner institutions have been conducting since 2000 field work to determine the health effects of exposure to arsenic contained in well water, the mechanism of the release of arsenic to groundwater, and ways to effectively reduce exposure of the Bangladesh population. This on-going program, supported primarily by NIEHS and NSF, was supplemented in March 2004 with a grant from the Earth Clinic of the Earth Institute at Columbia University (http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/) to develop mobile-phone technology for accessing a spatial interpretation of an existing database of 5 million well tests at the village level.
Achievements: The SMS-based version of the “Welltracker” technology is operational and has been tested in Columbia’s study area of Araihazar. A dedicated computer at the University of Dhaka connected to a mobile phone receives requests for a particular village, queries the database, runs a simple algorithm, and returns a text message that lists the “start depth” for drilling to groundwater that meets the WHO guideline for As as well as a probability estimate that the start depth is correct (see illustration). For other villages, the text message indicates that a “start depth” cannot be determined from the depth distribution of arsenic in existing wells. The database currently includes 30,000 tests from Araihazar provided by the Bangladesh government and an additional 270,000 tests in other areas made available by UNICEF. A web-based emulator is available at http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/welltracker/. The World Bank office in Dhaka has engaged the Bangladesh government in a discussion to make the entire database accessible through Welltracker.
Click here to watch 18 min. video describing the well drilling procedure and the use of cell phones in Bangladesh. The video was produced by Franck Dubois (http://www.bleu.net/)
Click here to download Amy Schoenfeld's 2005 MS thesis entitled “Area, Village, and Household Response to Arsenic Testing and Labeling of Tubewells in Araihazar, Bangladesh”.