Community wells that extend deeper than most private wells are crucial for reducing exposure to groundwater arsenic (As) in rural Bangladesh. This study evaluates the impact on access to safe drinking water of 915 such intermediate (90–150 m) and deep (>150 m) wells across a 180 km2 area where a total of 48,790 tubewells were tested with field kits in 2012–13. Half the shallow private wells meet the Bangladesh standard of 50 μg/L for As in drinking water, whereas 92% of the intermediate and deep wells meet the more restrictive World Health Organization guideline for As in drinking water of 10 μg/L. As a proxy for water access, distance calculations show that 29% of shallow wells with >50 μg/L As are located within walking distance (100 m) of at least one of the 915 intermediate or deep wells. Similar calculations for a hypothetical more even distribution of deep wells show that 74% of shallow wells with >50 μg/L As could have been located within 100 m of the same number of deep wells. These observations and well-usage data suggest that community wells in Araihazar, and probably elsewhere in Bangladesh, were not optimally allocated by the government because of elite capture.

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