TONK (Rajasthan), Dec 23 — People living in fluorosis affected zones in Karbi Anglong and Nagaon districts of Assam can take a valuable tip from the rural folk in Rajasthan on how to purge the drinking water of excess fluoride at household level. Thanks to initiative taken by a couple of NGOs aided by the UNICEF, fluorosis affected villagers in many parts of drought-hit Rajasthan have become able to come in terms with the burning problem. About 55 per cent of the total population in Rajasthan are affected by fluorosis in various degrees. The problem has remained static for at least five years now due to continuous drought condition in the State. Lack of rainfall has given rise to sharp rise in the fluoride concentration in the ground water, the only source of drinking water in the State.
For drinking floruide-rich water, rural people in that State have started losing their teeth at the early age beside being plagued by bone diseases. Children’s growth has been severely affected by the fluorosis forcing the NGOs and UNICEF to sit up and take some action. With virtually no help coming from the cash-strapped State Government, the NGOs have opted for community participation in fighting fluorosis menace. They have trained the villagers as to how to filter the water of excessive fluoride through chemical treatment. Although the method is not that simple, the semi-literate villagers in the State have shown exemplary interest in learning the process much to the relief of the NGOs. The villagers have been taught how to determine the percentage of fluoride in drinking water by treating the water to a chemical compound called zirconilered. Then again how to remove the excess fluoride from the water by passing it through a chemical called activated aluminae.
At a non-descript village near Vanasthali in Tonk district, a team of visiting journalists were briefed by the villagers recently on the process of deflouridation of drinking water. It was simply amazing to learn the not so simple procedure from illiterate or semi-literate rural folk. The UNICEF with the help from a couple of NGOs are focussing on setting up community as well as household deflouridation projects in rural Rajasthan to check fluorosis. Initially the UNICEF is providing the lion’s share of the fund required to buy the activated aluminae to set up defluoridation units at community as well as domestic level. The rest of the money is to be contributed by the community or owner of particular households. The maintenance is the owner’s responsibility.
Even regeneration of activated aluminae which becomes useless after being used for defluoridiation for five to six months at a stretch, is being done by the villagers themselves by using caustic soda/potass and sulphuric acid. The NGOs have taught them the process. The UNICEFF provides part of the initial fund to set up at least one regeneration unit per village and responsibility is entrusted to a leading villager who is found with more expertise in handling the process. The NGOs and the UNICEF believe that domestic as well as community defluoridation of water will be sustained here as the community has shown tremendous interest in it. “It will now continue even after the UNICEF stops funding as villagers will be too willing to bear the expense from their pocket to drink safe water,” an NGO official said.
The district administration here is also monitoring the projects run by the UNICEF money. The Deputy Commissioner Ashwini Bhagat informed, “We are considering the UNICEF funded deflouridation projects as pilot ones. The administration is willing to set up such plants in as many as 40 fluorosis-hit villages in the district. Still community participation will be must to sustain those projects set up by the Government.” If the rural community in Rajasthan can take the lead in fighting fluorosis, why not in Assam where people waits for Government to solve every problem faced by them. For that to happen in Assam, we will need many more dedicated NGOs.