GUWAHATI, May 11 - Despite the growing incidence of arsenic and fluoride contamination and the harrowing ordeal of the sufferers, including children in large numbers, the State government has made little practical intervention all these years to address the grave health hazard.
The government’s inertia is all the more disturbing because it has been able to spend a meagre Rs 50.27 crore out of the Rs 330.96 crore it had received from the Centre under its National Jal Jeevan Mission (NJJM) three years back. The fund from the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS) was earmarked for providing potable water in arsenic- and fluoride-affected areas on priority basis.
Concerned over the State’s slow progress, the DDWS has requested the government to treat the matter urgently and ensure potable water in the affected areas considering the adverse long-term impact on children exposed to contaminated drinking water.
Under the National Water Quality Sub-Mission (NWQSM), as reported by the State government, 483 out of total 3,726 arsenic-affected habitations and 119 out of total 155 fluoride-affected habitations have been provided with safe drinking water.
Official sources told The Assam Tribune that the under the NJJM, every rural household was to be provided with functional household tap connection (FHTC) by 2024.
In Assam, an abysmal 2.33 per cent households have tap connection and by 2024, every household is to be provided with functional household tap connection with service level of 55 litres per capita per day.
Achieving this goal by 2024 will test the government, as it will have to provide, on an average, at least 11.32 lakh household connections every year till 2024. As on date, only 22,000 household connections have been made in the just-concluded financial year.
As immediate measure, the State government has been asked to take steps to provide safe drinking water in all quality-affected habitations and conduct health check-ups in schools in convergence with the education and health departments to identify children at risk and take necessary steps.
“The programme focuses on service delivery at household level, i.e., water supply on regular basis in adequate quantity and of prescribed quality. Every public institution, viz. gram panchayat buildings, schools, anganwadi and health centres, etc., are also to be provided with tap water connection. JJM is a decentralised, demand-driven, community-managed programme where every gram panchayat and/or its sub-committee, i.e., village water and sanitation committee (VWSC)/paani samiti/user group, etc., is to plan, implement, manage, operate and maintain their in-village water supply infrastructure,” sources said.
The participatory approach is expected to instill a sense of ownership among the local community, creating in the process an environment of trust and bringing in transparency, besides leading to better implementation and long-term operation and maintenance of water supply systems.
“It would also develop responsible and responsive leadership at village level to manage an essential service like water supply," sources added.
The project envisages every village is to prepare a village action plan (VAP) which involves plan for water resource management, water supply and grey water treatment and reuse.
“The State has to firm up village, block and district-wise timelines or plans for 100 per cent functional household tap connection. While planning, priority is to be given to water quality affected areas, water-scarce villages, villages coming under Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojna and Aspirational Districts programme. NGOs, voluntary organisations, women self help groups, etc., are to be empanelled as implementation support agencies (ISAs) to mobilise and handhold the local community in implementing JJM,” sources said.
Earlier this year, NJJM had received a grievance from a resident of Guwahati and it was reported that a primary school of Kamrup district had no access to piped water supply and children were consuming groundwater with high fluoride content. It was also found that urine samples of 14 children showed excessive content of fluoride confirming dental fluorosis in them and possibly skeletal fluorosis too.
Fluorosis is a painful disease caused due to lack of potable drinking water and lack of adequate nutrition. Excessive fluoride intake causes paraplegia, arthritis and other diseases. It also affects human intelligence, especially in children who are most susceptible to early fluoride toxicity.
As there is no treatment for severe cases of fluorosis, efforts can only be made towards reducing disability. However, the disease is easily preventable if diagnosed early and steps are taken to prevent intake of excess fluoride through the provision of safe drinking water, adequate nutrition, etc.