RESEARCH holding controversial insecticide endosulfan, already banned by more than 80 countries, responsible for the death of 13 children in Dinajpur and Thakurgaon that occurred between May 31 and June 30, 2012, as New Age reported on Wednesday, brings to the fore the sorry state of pesticide regulation in Bangladesh. The research published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene says that all the fatalities, caused by brain inflammation or acute encephalitis syndrome — marked by fainting, convulsions, sweating and frothy discharge — were linked to the exposure of the children to lychee fruit. The research further notes that the investigation suggests that the ‘deaths in 2012 were most likely due to an exposure to multiple, highly toxic agrochemicals.’ The insecticide called endosulfan, which Bangladesh is reported to have banned in 2011, coming to be available that time on the market, mostly off label, and be applied to lychee orchards points to another issue as the outbreak areas were very close to the Bangladesh-India borders and, it is said, some pesticides, being banned in Bangladesh, are collected from India. While it appears that pesticide regulation in Bangladesh is weak, it also seems that steps to stop smuggling of such chemicals are also generally very weak.
A similar incident also took place in Dinajpur in June 2015, when eight children died from unintentional pesticide poisoning in lychee orchards. The children, aged 2–6 years, died of convulsion and associated shivering after they had been exposed to pesticides, applied to lychee trees, through their skins in cases pesticide residues were yet to go off, through ingestion in cases they had eaten the lychees that fell off the trees and probably through inhalation in cases there had been a heavy use of pesticide. All these incidents point to a failure of the government in its pesticide regime. This suggests that lychee growers or orchard caretakers are not adequately informed of, and educated in, the use of pesticides. The growers use an overdose of pesticides, reportedly more than a dozen times when they are supposed to use the pesticide only three times between flowering and harvesting, which spans 36 to 40 days. The growers are reported not be leaving the gap of 10 to 12 days between the last application of pesticide and harvesting, which is the usual duration for chemical residues to go off.
The government is, thus, left with a few tasks to do. It must step up oversight and arrange for pesticide residue analysis if it wants to better public health by putting in pesticide regulation. It must also enforce environmental regulations to complement pesticide regulation. The government must take up the issue of grower awareness and educate them in pesticide use that is safe for humans. It must also put in market oversight to check against the availability of banned and highly toxic agrochemicals and, at the same time, improve its border management so that banned agrochemicals cannot enter Bangladesh and reach the orchards to cause fatalities.
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