Problem of Arsenic Water in Bihar and Challenges to Provide Safe Drinking Water to Citizens
The key to good health is the practice of good hygiene. The provision of Safe Water and Sanitation (Safe Human Excreta facilities) at home along with improved hygiene behavior, clean and safe water are the primary drivers of Public Health. Unless we can secure access to safe water and sanitation for the billions of poor people in the world who are presently without the same, our battle against the huge burden of infectious diseases particularly in the developing world, could never be won. Unless we can secure access to safe water and sanitation for the billions of poor people in the world who are presently without the same, our battle against the huge burden of infectious diseases particularly in the developing world, could never be won. One of the greatest failures of the last fifty years has been the failure to lay the foundation stones of public health in the developing world – hygiene, safe water supply and sanitation. It is a failure that today deprives hundreds of millions not only of health but of productivity. It is a failure that undermines the normal mental and physical growth of rising generations. It is a failure that pollutes fresh water resources with faecal matter on a massive scale. It is a failure that condemns more than a billion people to live with a daily environmental crisis of squalor, smell, and disease. And it is a failure that holds back the development of people and of nations.
Today, while the urban population of many countries faces the problems of unplanned development and environmental degradation, concurrently the rural population continues to suffer lack of sanitation and safe drinking water, malnutrition and ecological insecurity. World Health Organization (WHO) data on the burden of disease suggests that approximately 1.8 million deaths and 61.9 million disability-adjusted-life years (DALYs) are attributable to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene worldwide (WHO 2004 World Health Report). This figure corresponds to 88% of diarroheal diseases world-wide which is considered to be the attributable fraction of diarrhea due to unsafe water supply and sanitation plus the disease burden from trachoma, schistosomiasis, ascariasis, trichuriasis and hookworm disease. In India diarrhoeal diseases alone cause more than 0.6 million deaths annually. Study has shown that in slum areas of major cities diarrhoeal incidence as high as 10.5 episodes per child per year occur on regular basis. Diseases caused by faeco-orally transmitted enteric pathogens account for 10% of total burden of disease in India.
Arsenic contamination in groundwater has emerged as a major water quality problem causing serious health hazards in West Bengal & Bangladesh, where vast areas have been affected in recent years. The commonly reported symptoms of chronic arsenic poisoning include hyperpigmentation, dipigmentation and keratosis. Skin cancer & internal cancer can also occur.
In India, the most affected state is West Bengal, where 104 blocks in 9 districts in the Gangetic Delta are affected. The Calcutta city & metropolitan area also fall in the hydrogeologically risk zone though most of the people here uses surface water, supplied by the Municipal distribution system which is free from Arsenic. However, it must be mentioned that some of the tubewells drawing water from the Arseniferrous aquifer in the Calcutta metropolitan area could be contaminated.
Reports of Arsenic in groundwater have been received from 6 other Indian states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Chattisgarh & Madhya Pradesh. Extent of the problem in these states is not yet fully known in absence of data regarding water quality in the potentially risk areas and epidemiological information. In Bihar, there are 36 nos. of blocks (109 GPs) where arsenic is found in the tube wells above 50 mg/l.
Sulabh Jalkranti in West Bengal
Sulabh International Social Service Organisation (SISSO), pioneers of many social and environmental movements in our country has a new mission. Our epoch making contributions for removal of manual scavenging and promotion of appropriate technologies for promotion of sanitation is well known. I was concerned with the acute problems faced by the rural population in West Bengal because of arsenic contamination of ground water and bacteriological contamination of surface water. We have developed a new people-centric and decentralised approach. Inspired by the works of a French company in Cambodia and Madagascar, we undertook pilot projects in a few villages of West Bengal, which were seriously affected by arsenic, fluoride and micro-biological contamination of ground and surface water. The basic idea was to empower villagers in entrepreneurship and technology adaption, so that they could apply appropriate technology for upgrading the quality of water collected from traditional surface water sources and supply the same to the doorsteps of the rural population. Considering that, there are many perennial surface water sources like ponds/rivers/ lakes/ spring water / dug wells in the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, and many other states in Ganga - Brahmaputra plains, this could go a long way in addressing the problem of Arsenic if the “conservation and utilisation of the traditional surface water sources”, in the rural areas which were otherwise being grossly abused by the people, could be organised. Simultaneously, this would also make the villagers self-reliant in the matter of availability of safe water in their homes. The pilot studies in Madhusudankati (North 24 Parganas), Midnapore and Haridaspur (Bangaon) have demonstrated the technical and financial feasibility of the ‘Sulabh Jal’ model and its sustainability in the long term. Encouraged by the pilot project in these villages, many people based organisations are taking up the similar programme in their villages. It appears that the innovative approach developed by SISSO, would bring out a revolutionary change in the community water supply systems in the rural areas. Presently the villagers are totally dependent on Govt. supply which is often suffering from acute quality problems and operation & maintenance failure. It is nothing short of a social revolution if the villagers themselves could produce and supply safe water to the community at less than 50 paise / litre.
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