People living in Jalpur, a village in North Karnataka still suffer from health issues due to the high level of TDS in drinking water despite the state government’s Multi Village Drinking Water Supply Scheme
By Tamanna Yasmin
Struggling to walk even with a stick, an elderly villager, Sanganagouda Biradar, approaches the water purifier to drink some water as the scorching sun above his head dries up his throat. His hope to comfort his throat was left unfulfilled when the tap produced air instead of water.
This is the picture of Jalpur, a small village in Muddebihal taluk of North Karnataka district Bijapur. Despite access to clean drinking water being a basic right, Jalpur is one of the many villages in our country which still faces problems related to drinking water.
It is quite shocking that while in urban India we are surrounded by a plethora of luxuries, rural India still struggles for something as basic as drinking water which we usually take for granted.
While most of us living in urban areas poses at least one household water filter per family, Jalpur, with a population of more than a thousand people has only one water purifier for the entire village.
Villagers have been issued pre-paid rechargeable “Any Time Water” cards using which they can fetch purified drinking water from the village purifier at Re. 1 per 10 litres.
In spite of Jalpur having the supply of purified drinking water from Basavasagar Dam under the state government’s Multi Village Drinking Water Supply Scheme, the villagers claim that the purifier often gets out of order and is left in that condition for as long as fifteen days.
Villagers collectively say that when the purifier gets out of order they are bound to travel to other villagers and bring drinking water from there. This is obviously very hectic and not possible for all the families.
The alternative is to drink the bore well water which has a high TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) level. Anand Shivayogimath, a teacher of the primary government school in Jalpur says, “The borewell water of this village has a TDS level of 1500 mg/litre. Drinking this water causes various health problems among the villagers. Children and elderly people are more susceptible to this.”
Basavaraj, a 35-year-old farmer of Jalpur says, “It is just yesterday that the purifier has been repaired, before that we were devoid of purified water for more than ten days.” His family consists of 12 members; most of them are either children or senior citizens. Hence, he and his brother are faced with great inconvenience when the purifier gets out of order as they have to bring water from the neighbouring villages for all the members. Moreover, he suffers from skeletal fluorosis, which worsens the situation. His left foot is crippled; it makes his task of carrying water a lot more difficult. “None other than the borewell water is responsible for my misery. I am not the only one, you will find a lot of villagers suffering from fluorosis and other health issues as they are bound to drink this water,” says Basavaraj.
The website of India Water Portal mentions, “Water used for drinking becomes unpalatable when the TDS level is above 500 mg/litre.”
Dr Manasa of the Muddebihal taluk hospital further explains the issue, “TDS level of 300 mg/litre is ideal for drinking. However, it is permissible until 500 mg/litre.” Learning about the TDS level of Jalpur village she says, “TDS level of 1500 mg/litre is undoubtedly unfit for drinking. Consumption of such water can lead to vomiting and loose motion. Moreover, in the long run, it may adversely affect the digestive system and can also cause pain in bone joints. Cases of fluorosis are also common in such areas.”
Mohammed Rafik, a farmer who lives with his family of eight members shares, “Two years back, when there was not any water purifier in our village, almost all the villagers were admitted to the taluk hospital and Kerudi Hospital, Bagalkot due to severe loose motion and vomiting. Even my mother was admitted for eight days.”
However, the taluk hospital does not have a record of this mass admission from Jalpur. Staff nurse Sanjay Biradar says, “There are no records of such large-scale admission to our hospital due to the ingestion of unfit drinking water. Sometimes, we do get somewhat mass admission but those are mostly cases of food poisoning due to consumption of food prepared for any school function or such.”
Rafik and other villagers further say that the situation was so severe that health camps had to be set up in anganwadis for about fifteen days. Doctors offered free treatment; some of them also gave medicines free of cost. It took about a month until the villagers could get back to their normal lives.
Although the situation has improved after the installation of the purifier, the problem persists. People are still facing health problems due to the consumption of bore well water unfit for drinking when the only purifier gets out of order.
Sanganagouda Biradar, a seventy-years-old resident of the village who suffers from skeletal fluorosis, says, “I suffer from chronic joint pain due to the consumption of bore well water. I cannot walk properly. It is difficult for me to sit and get up once I sit down. Medicines prescribed by the doctors offer temporary relief but there is no permanent solution.”
Ashok Biradar, an 11-year-old studying in the fifth standard is among a lot of children in the village whose teeth have been stained deep yellow and has become sensitive as a result of suffering from dental fluorosis. He says, “The stains do not go away no matter how hard I brush my teeth. Also, my teeth hurt a little while eating/drinking something too hot or cold.”
Besides fluorosis, many villagers complain of some other ailments including indigestion, stomach ache, and experiencing dryness in throat due to excessive thirst.
Fluorosis is an endemic disease which results from excessive intake of fluoride through drinking water, food, or dentifrices which are at a concentration of 2.00 ppm (parts per million) and above. In humans, drinking water is the most common medium of fluoride intake.
Dental fluorosis causes hypomineralization, i.e, softening and discolouration of the enamel. Continuous consumption of water with a fluoride content of 10 ppm and above leads to pathological changes of bone, which may further result in skeletal fluorosis. While dental fluorosis is easy to recognize, skeletal fluorosis is not clinically obvious unless one reaches the advanced stage of crippling. This disease is also associated with osteoporosis and osteosclerosis.
An investigation conducted by Department of Chemistry, S.B. Arts and K.C.P Science College, Bijapur offers a deeper perspective. The study took 38 water samples from 11 villages of Muddebihal taluk. The research paper says, “There are no major surface water sources in the study area, however, main sources of drinking water in selected area are open wells, hand pumps and bore wells.”
The study revealed that fluoride content varied from 1.10-7.10 mg/litre, which is way above the permissible level of WHO (World Health Organization). WHO sets the limit at 1.5 mg/litre, and also mentions, “Concentrations above this value carry an increased risk of dental fluorosis, and much higher concentrations lead to skeletal fluorosis.”
The research also revealed that the TDS level in the water sample taken from Muddebihal taluk ranged from 3552-4117 mg/litre.
The villagers’ sample consisted of both the sexes aged between eight and fifty years. The results show that among the sample of 2696 people who were examined, 812 people, which is 29.49% of the sample suffered from dental and skeletal fluorosis; 432 people (16.18%) experienced joint pains; and 415 people (15.54%) had gastrointestinal discomfort and excessive thirst.
Even though the future generation would not be intensely affected by this problem as now the village is at least having a purifier, a considerable portion of the previous generation who had no choice but to drink bore well water suffers from fluorotic symptoms. The natural remedies mentioned in the above slide might bring some relief to them. The panchayat should spread awareness about the ways to fight joint pain, an ailment which bothers a lot of villagers. It can be done by distributing leaflets or conducting announcements. Another effective way is to enlighten the children. Schools should arrange campaigns in which they educate the children about the problem and the possible solutions so that they can convey the message to their parents.
While the villagers complain of the situation, PS Kasanakki, the Panchayat Development Officer who is in charge of the village says, “We have installed a water purifier in Jalpur. Under the Multi Village Drinking Water Supply Scheme, we are supplying clean drinking water to the village from Basavasagar Dam which is constructed across the Krishna River.”
Addressing the problem of the purifier frequently getting out of order and being left in that condition for several days he says, “Once the villagers notice that something is wrong with the purifier, they visit the Panchayat office to inform us. We try to repair the purifier at the earliest. It depends upon the availability of the plumbers who are supposed to repair them on a contractual basis. At times, they get too many orders in a short span of time, hence, they might take some time to visit the village and address the problem.”
A probable solution to this problem is to train the villagers, a few of them who are capable of understanding the mechanism, to repair the filters by themselves. Then, they will no longer have to wait for the mechanic and consequently, will not be forced to drink the bore well water.
There are a many multi village drinking water supply schemes in India which aim at providing clean drinking water to rural areas as a lot of villages face water scarcity, and in most of the cases, the water fetched from sources like borewell are not potable. However, the prime question lies in their effectiveness.
A report on the review of the effectiveness of rural water supply schemes in India by The World Bank paints a bigger picture. It says, “The multi village schemes are designed to provide a regular supply of water at the level of 40 lpcd (litres per capita per day) or higher. In reality, however, the multi village schemes are in many cases not providing water regularly and the supply level falls short of the government norm of 40 lpcd.”
The study also compares the performance of multi village and single village water supply schemes and finds out that the former performs worse than the latter not only in terms of quantity of water supply but also fails to catch up with some important parameters of water quality.
Studying the water quality of 52 multi village (including regional) schemes in seven states the report reveals that MPN coliform (most preferable number of coliform bacteria) exceeds the permissible limit in about 70 per cent of water samples. Moreover, about 33 per cent of households are able to meet less than half of their water requirement from the schemes.
The poor performance of multi village water supply schemes can be attributed to a number of factors. Since the distribution is among a larger number of habitats a considerable proportion of households fall at the tail-end of the scheme. They are likely to face inadequate water supply.
Also, the expenditure incurred on repair and maintenance in multi village schemes falls far short of the proposed allocation. The expenditure on minor repair and maintenance is about 0.4 per cent of the total capital cost of the schemes. Evidently, the lower the expenditure on maintenance, the poorer the performance. The issue of insufficient maintenance is further complemented by the problem of inadequate yield from the water sources, especially in summer. Consequently, the supply and pressure of water is low.