The mystery of the Indian village water

Posted on September 17, 2005

1


Indrani and Sanjay, the female and male supervisors of a local NGO, accompanied me to Chaukidar cluster in Padharapur a in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh state in India.

Here, we met a 13-year-old girl Janglee and a boy, 7-year-old Kamal . Both are physically and mentally disabled, and could not even stand on their own for long. Janglee and Kama l cannot play with friends and they move around in acute pain in the limited world of their small hut. Kamal ‘s father works hard for US $1 a day and has spent US $200 (EUR166) for treatment in last few years with no improvement. He now helplessly looks upon us with the hope that we could do something for his loving Kamal.

Crippling Fluorosis

Rukma, in this village of Dhar smiles innocently. Rukma is only 8 year old and is badly affected with skeletal fluorosis. Rukma can at least now stand properly her own, and does not complain so frequently about acute abdominal and joint pain. Her family has now shifted house from Chaukidar to a safer water point nearby. Rukma ‘s mother plans to send her and her younger sister and brother (also affected by fluoride), to the nearby school.

During a community wide discussion at Padharapura, we were informed that the mystery started with the struggle for water in the 1990s. Rural water supply agencies started making holes at deeper depths around the village to serve the increasing population. Where traditional wells were dug at 10-15 metres, these new handpumps were at 20-40 metres and more. When people raised doubts about symptoms of dental and skeletal fluorosis, they were told that the answer was deep drilled handpumps. Earlier people had been dependent on tradition e. springs (jhiri) , and shallow wells -(kuwan) . The growing population and requirements of thirsty crops led to over-exploitation of ground water, without recharge methods and or basic know how about quality.

Sakubai, 24, is pregnant and has acute pain in her joints. Her in-laws are anxious about the safe delivery and health of her child. Sakubai wants to purchase a domestic defluoridation filter as suggested by NGOs. But she is helpless as a costly filter costs US$ 35 (EUR 29). The only alternate is to drink water from the handpump or to travel two kilometres to fetch a bucket of water.

Udiya , has recently been elected as new village Sarpanch (Chairman) in Padharapura . He is struggling to get to the bottom of this mysterious problem. Udiya is willing to do something for his community with the financial support of government and water authorities. He is thinking about new water holes – handpumps.

Targets and Funds

Water authorities have already met their water supply targets. They need more funds to manage the severity of the spreading fluoride problem as the only solutions they can suggest are distributing defluoridation filters or installing new hand pumps. However, their current priority is ‘ improved sanitation’ to each household in Padharapura and nearby villages. Health authorities are not aware of the severity this endemic fluoride problem. A few international organisations are helping the water authority, but they have their own priorities and limitations.

India has 4% of the world’s total water and 15% of the world’s population. Drinking water ‘co verage’ in India was 18 percent in 1974, has now become 95 percent. About 80%-90% of domestic water in rural India is from ground water sources. With the installation of three million India Mark-II hand pumps for domestic water and 20 million power driven pumps for irrigation, the water table has fallen from an average of 10 metres to 80 metres (UNICEF-1998). This exacerbated the availability of water in aquifers and resulted in higher concentration of chemicals, including fluoride, arsenic, and iron.

324 Villages Affected

In Dhar district, 324 villages with 980 water sources are affected with similar problem. Mitigation measures and institutional coordination at every level are shockingly negligible. To achieve the domestic water supply, target holes were dug on the arbitrary assumption of safe water in the ground. Water authorities and organisations promoting hand pump technology were least concerned about water quality and safety measures. The user communities are not aware of the quality of the water point they depend on. They were never involved in the dialogue and process of water supply planning and handpump installation.

Sakubai and her future generation are ready to compromise their fate with their only water source, the handpump. Kamal’s skeletal fluorosis is irreversible. Rukma does not know the reason for her mysterious disability. Does every one remain silent about their agony and crippling future? Maybe Janglee and Kamal will be targeted under the Millennium Developmental Goals of safe and improved water…basic and improved facilities … sustainable access and equity. The problem has been noted, a few actions are proposed, funding is sought for the next financial year, a donor agreed on. Maybe we can do a little in the coming year…in Padharapura.

Publication Link>>