In a small village in Bangladesh, thousands of sparrows have died from eating dead insects in vegetable fields sprayed with a hazardous pesticide. Promotion by pesticide companies has led to indiscriminate use of pesticides by the farmers, and the situation is aggravated by the availability of dangerous pesticides smuggled in from neighbouring India.


The day was 31 August 1999. In Dakatia village in Jessore, a district in the western border region of Bangladesh, people watched in horror the mass death of sparrows in their vegetable fields. The villagers initially put the number of dead sparrows at 5,000. The actual figure was higher.

In the early morning, a farmer named Kabirul first saw hundreds of dying sparrows lying in the eggplant field, wings flapping weakly. The sight of the birds in pain brought tears to Kabirul's eyes. He also found many dead sparrows spread like cold sponge balls in the field.

The birds that were still alive were bleeding; bloodstains could be spotted on their beaks. According to Kabirul, he could smell pesticide in the bodies of the slowly decaying birds. Hoping to save these birds, he took them home. But nothing could be done; the birds eventually died in front of him.

The same thing was happening in other nearby fields. Women came to report the death of more sparrows in their homestead. They were all crying, saying they had seen the death of human beings but they could not tolerate seeing the death of these beautiful, harmless little birds. 'They make our mornings, they're part of life,' the women said. 'It's like part of your heart is dead.'

Dakatia village is well known for its varieties of trees, including fruit trees like mango, jackfruit and lichi. The trees attract many birds, especially sparrows, which live on the trees and eat the insects and bugs in the fields.

About 4,000 people live in this village, 80% of whom are engaged in farming activities. The land is not very suitable for rice cultivation, but vegetable production is quite significant. Over 90% of the cultivable land is planted with eggplant, pointed gourd, bean, pumpkin, radish, carrot, okra, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.

Sparrows have a very important place in the lives of the people. They are believed to bring luck to the farming households. Besides being an ecological indicator that the environment is all right, they play an extremely useful role in pest management by feeding on the problem insects.

Due to promotion by the pesticide companies, the farmers in the village are using all kinds of pesticides with brand names such as Marshal, Sumithion, Thiovit, Furadan, Ripcord, Kap, Sumibus, Sevin Dust, and Santap. Besides, since the village is on the border with India, there are many smuggled pesticides, especially those which are not sold on the Indian market.

Among the Indian pesticides, Ustad, Thidrin and Methodrin are very hazardous. These are widely found in the village.

It is learnt that the eggplant and pointed gourd fields where the sparrows were killed had been sprayed with Ustad the night before. The sparrows ate the dead insects in these fields and they died.

The pesticides reportedly used in the village are listed as hazardous by the World Health Organisation. For example, Furadan (Carbofuran pesticide) is in the category of 'highly hazardous'.

Other pesticides include Marshal 6G and 20EC (Carbosulfan), Suntap 50SP (Cartap), Ripcord 10EC (Cypermethrin), Sumithion (Fenitrothion), KAP 50EC (Phenthoate), Sevin 10% Dust (Carbaryl), Ustad 10EC (Cypermethrin), Sumibus 75EC (Fenitrothion + BPMCS) and Thiovit 80WP (sulfur). Most of them are categorised as moderately hazardous.

People are shocked and alarmed at this incident. They would not let chickens, goats and cows go near the deadly fields. Local officers of the Plant Protection wing of the Agricultural Extension Department visited the place, as did local dealers of the pesticide company. Unfortunately, none of them advised the farmers to stop spraying the pesticide until further instruction. However, the villagers themselves have demanded that pesticides should be stopped.

There is much protest against this massacre of the sparrows. The Nayakrishi Andolon - the New Agricultural Movement of Farmers for Ecological Agriculture - has demanded an investigation into the incident and that those responsible for selling the pesticides and misleading the farmers into using them be punished.

It also urged the farmers to stop using pesticides as these have harmful effects on the health of humans, animals and birds, and are a serious threat to biodiversity. The political party Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) also protested and demanded a probe into the incident.

This incident represents only the tip of the iceberg, and further investigation is required to assess the extent of the damage to lives in the area. The local organisation UBINIG is campaigning against the use of pesticides and is following up on the incident for more evidence of environmental, ecological and health consequences of heavy use of lethal pesticides.

The above article is based on reports published in the Manab Zamin (6 September 1999), Bhorer Kagaz (1 September 1999), and Inqilab (2 September 1999), as well as the investigative report in Manab Zamin by Nur Islam from Jessore.

For further information, please contact: UBINIG, 5/3 Barabo Mahampur, Ring Road, Shaymoli, Dhaka 1207, Bangladesh. Tel: 880-2-811465/816420; Fax: 880-2-813065; e-mail: