Rising menace of chemically contaminated water in rural areas

Rashi Aditi Ghosh/Zee Research Group

Availability of safe and potable water continues to be a distant dream for the rural populace of India. Going by a ministry of Drinking water and sanitation report, five per cent of the samples analysed at rural habitations were found to be unfit for drinking purposes, with an alarming level of chemical contamination.

According to the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) of the ministry, as on April 1,2013, out of 16,90,870 rural habitations in the country, there are 84,292 rural habitations, in which at least one drinking water source is affected by chemical contamination like excess Iron, Fluoride, Arsenic, Salinity and Nitrate.

The report also estimated that about 4.64 crore population in the country may be exposed to chemical contamination in drinking water.

IMIS further reveals that villages in Rajasthan are most affected by contaminated water in the country. As stated, in Rajasthan, 25,504 rural habitations or 1.09 crore people are getting water with chemical or bacterial contamination. Assam comes next with 12,879 rural habitations or 0.44 crore people affected by contamination, followed by Bihar with 10,587 affected households.

Explaining the major causes of chemical contamination of water in rural areas, Nitya Jacob, programme director (water programme) at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi said, “Government provides hand pumps to the people in rural areas that directly expose the households to chemical contamination. I strongly suggest that rather than providing hand pumps to the people, Government should provide resources like deeper wells, which cut down the chances of drinking chemically contaminated water.”

Jacob further added that apart from the states mentioned in the report many other states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are also highly affected with chemical contamination of water.

“Ministry of Drinking water and sanitation supplements the efforts of the States by providing them with technical and financial assistance under the centrally sponsored National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP). A budgetary allocation of Rs 11,000 crore has been provided for the year 2013-14. Under the scheme, the government has given priority to providing affected habitations with safe drinking water. However, the state governments are vested with powers to plan, approve, execute and implement drinking water supply schemes," says the report.

Reasoning excessive use of non-biodegradable agents, Dr Umesh Chandra Kulshrestha, Professor, School of Environmental Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Delhi, “Chemical contamination of water that was earlier known to be a problem for urban areas is now equally affecting the rural areas as well. Alike urban populace, people in rural areas have also started disposing non -biodegradable things in water. It’s unfortunate that, due lack of education and awareness, unlike their urban counterparts, rural masses are not able to cope up with the crisis.”