NEW DELHI: As many as 200 districts in the country suffer from high fluoride concentration in ground water. Spread over 17 states and affecting a population of some 25 million, another 66 million are described as a “population at risk”.
So says a recently-concluded WHO-UNICEF sponsored study on the country’s water supply and sanitation. The country assessment report, on which the Planning Commission collaborated, is part of a joint monitoring programme for the sector.
The report called for enactment of ground water legislation in all states “aiming at equity and sustainability in access to ground water and its development needs”.
Significantly, the study also called for a river-basin or sub-basin based approach to water management in the country stating that the “present approach restricts the issue only to political boundaries, involving a number of agencies and ministries with overlapping responsibilities”.
According to the report, the river-basin based approach would ensure that issues such as water allocation, controlling pollution and protection of water resources “are not dealt in isolation and decisions on the overall development process and land-use planning flow from this”.
As for ground water contamination, the report notes that fluoride isn’t the only contaminant with nearly 13.8 million people living in 75 blocks in West Bengal also reported to be at risk owing to the presence of arsenic in ground water, says the study.
And fluoride and arsenic aren’t the only two contaminants in ground water serving as slow poison. There are varying levels of iron, too, particularly in the north-eastern part of the country and heavy metals like lead, nickel, chromium, zinc, copper and manganese apart from nitrates and bacteriological contamination.
While the assessment does take into account various efforts on to check this contamination, it also notes that in many instances, technology seems to have failed.
For example, hand-pump attached defluoridation and iron removal plants are not suited to “community perceptions and community involvement” whereas desalination plants “have been a costly failure due to lapses at different levels such as poor planning and implementation, inappropriate technology to the rural setting and high costs of operation and maintenance”.
The study notes that a large section of the population in rural India continues to be dependent on unprotected sources of water. “Between 69 and 74 per cent of India’s rural population take their water from protected sources leaving an unserved population of 26 to 31 per cent.”
Urban areas seem to be better-off with an estimated 7-9 per cent depending on unprotected sources to meet their drinking water needs.