Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of getting to know an extraordinary man: Mohammad Alauddin, professor of chemistry at Wagner College and champion of better health for the poor in Bangladesh, his native land.
For many years now, Professor Alauddin has practically lived on both sides of the globe at once, teaching here at Wagner while also doing research to find solutions for Bangladesh's massive water contamination problem. He has funded much of this work himself, and provided innumerable life-saving water filters to needy families.
He told me that when he was asked by the Bangladeshi government to test arsenic levels in water in 1993, he had no idea about the urgency of the problem. A few years later, he started reading in the international press about the high levels of arsenic in the drinking water. Alarmed, he convened a conference on the issue in 1999 at Wagner, and he started his own research program.
In recent years, he added another focus area — indoor air pollution, which has made pneumonia the No. 1 killer of Bangladeshi children. He helped develop a project that uses readily available materials and methods to produce more efficient cook stoves with a ventilation system. Bangladeshi women are now making these stoves for their own communities.
“I started visiting Bangladesh because of the arsenic issue, and slowly and slowly, I felt like I'm thrust into it now, I have to work on it,” Alauddin says. “I just worked on one philosophy: That is, Bangladesh is a huge population, and I have seen so many people with arsenic skin lesions, you cannot believe it. … I saw all this suffering of these people.
“So every time I come back, I just think to myself I cannot solve the problem for Bangladesh. No organization can solve the problem for Bangladesh. But, I can at least take care of one family. Can I take care of one family? Five families? Ten families? That I can do. Then at least I can say, that was my contribution.”
— Laura Barlament, Editor, Wagner Magazine
Photo by Habibul Haque/Drik