Jagalur (Davanagere): Bindushree, 6, shrieks at the mere mention of the word bath. Pointing at her limb joints, which are covered with boils, the child breaks down saying the ulcers multiply every time she takes a bath.
Other than boils, there are many ailments plaguing the residents of Bilichodu and other villages in Jagalur taluk, about 270km from Bengaluru and 32km from the Davanagere district headquarters. Consumption of borewell water, high in flouride content, is to blame. With the heat sapping surface water resources dry, the villagers have no option but to rely on borewells. Children and the elderly are more susceptible.
“Every day, people from our village (population of over 4,500) go to the taluk or district hospital seeking relief from fluoride-related problems like pimples, joint pain and tooth decay,” says Halesh P, a social worker. Chowdappa K, another villager, says ealier they thought the boils were a result of them having offended the village deity. “We made the children sleep on a bed of neem leaves. When their condition didn’t improve, we visited the doctor and got to know that flouride is the culprit,” he adds.
A doctor from Davanagere says a mere look at a person’s teeth can reveal he or she is from Jagalur. “Many of them suffer from skeletal fluorosis, which results in joint pain, and dental fluorosis. Many keep coming back with the same problems because they continue to consume the same water,” he adds.
We have to drink it to survive, say residents
Fluoride contamination is a major problem in 75 of the nearly 100 villages of Jagalur taluk and Huchhangipur, Kamalapura, Marikunte, Siddaiahnakote, Gowdikatte, Donnehalli and Kattigehalli villages in the neighbouring Harapanahalli taluk. “While the probelm is not new, this summer has made it worse. High temperatures have resulted in drying up of surface water resources. We are forced to use borewell water. Whether it is laced with fluoride or poison, we have to drink the water to survive,” says Siddappa K, a resident of Marikunte.
Even the contaminated water doesn’t come for free. “Since many villagers are from marginalized communities and don’t own land, they depend on the public water supply which, however, is not functioning. We have to buy water from other villages shelling out Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 per tanker,” said Halesh.
Though Shuddha Ganga, a joint initiative of the government and Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP), drinking water units have een set up to provide potable water to villagers. But the entire district has only 13 of them, says Basavaraj BK, manager of a unit in Anaji village.
Rainwater harvesting can help
NJ Devaraj Reddy, geologist and expert on rainwater harvesting, says while the permissible limit for fluoride is 0.5 to 1.5 parts per million (ppm), in most parts of Jagalur and Harapanahalli, the levels are in the range of 2 ppm to 2.5 ppm. “About 80% of the groundwater basin is hit by fluoride, thanks to the deepening of borewells. The water being consumed is very hard. The impact is felt by villagers, 80% to 90 % of whom suffer from joint pain and resort to pain killers every day,” he explains. Devaraj says implementation of rainwater harvesting can go a long way in addressing the problem.