Providing access to iron-free drinking water

Providing access to iron-free drinking water

“The cases of typhoid, diarrhoea and dysentery have come down since the last year,” Mita Polai of Ogalpur village says with a toothy smile. Ogalpur village is in Puri district’s Kanas block.

Shy at first, she opens up gradually on how access to safe drinking water in the village improved their health. She points towards the hand pump and the cylindrical tank towering the hand pump. The tank attached to the hand pump is the Iron Removal Plant (IRP).

The groundwater in the village, and in the rest of the Puri district, has high levels of iron. The water, contaminated with iron, has bad smell and taste, and turns red on settling down. The alternative to the groundwater is surface water i.e. the Makhra river flowing close to the village. This too is contaminated with weeds and other biological contamination.   

The IRP, as the name suggests, removes iron from the groundwater that is drawn from the hand pump. Like Mita the rest of the women from the village, now, collect water from the IRP instead of the hand pump. The IRP was built in 2015 by Oxfam India and SOLAR (a Puri-based NGO).Oxfam India has been working along with SOLAR, since 2013, to develop the resilience of communities, in the villages, with a focus on women and the marginalised groups.  

Though the village had two hand pumps and a river as the main source of drinking water, they were proverbially caught in a between-the-devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea situation. According to statistics, 63 per cent of Puri’s population is drinking iron-contaminated water [i]. Puri lies in a waterlogged area and is also prone to floods and cyclones. Epidemics are thus common. The lack of access to safe drinking water, during and after disasters, is the underlying reason for water-borne diseases.  This is made worse by high salinity and iron content in drinking water.

The 2000 litre-capacity IRP, with a built in filter, reduces the iron content in the water. The water is drawn using motors; this is scheduled to run almost four times daily to meet the requirement of the 128 families in the village. The WASH committee in the village takes care of the maintenance and upkeep of the plant; the tank is scrubbed clean every Sunday and Wednesday, and bleaching powder is used daily to keep the surroundings clean and dry. It has been a year since the plant was set up and it has managed to address the accessibility to potable water to some extent.

Though extremely useful to the community the IRP, at the moment, has its limitation. For instance, when we went back the next morning we saw a long line of women waiting patiently with their pots for their turn while the water trickled from the IRP. Some broke the line and decided to simply collect water from the hand pump and move on. On prodding, an elderly Jora Sahu explained that there wasn’t enough water and there wasn’t enough time. “We need more IRPs”.

According to the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response, the average water use for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene in any household is at least 15 litres per person per day. On breaking it down, the water intake (drinking and food) for basic survival needs is 2.5-3 litres, and basic cooking needs would be between 3-6 litres per day. But these requirements aren’t met by the IRP at the moment.

Water is drawn through a motor and it is contingent to the supply of electricity. On days when the electricity supply is erratic, not enough water is lifted into the tanks. There isn’t enough drinking water available for everyone so they have to resort to the river. For cooking the community still continues to use the river water. Hence, the demand.

Working on these limitations could perhaps be the answer to its sustainability. For instance, setting up solar panels for providing electricity to draw water could be a good solution. Similarly, an additional water tank can be built on the side to store the filtered water.  The village has a second hand pump in the village school. The community wants to build the second IRP there.

At the moment, they contribute a nominal amount for the upkeep of the tank. They are ready to contribute for the second plant; an IRP can be set up at a cost of Rs 35000 to Rs 45000. “The neighbouring village has approached us several times to understand how the IRP works and if it can be set up in their village,” says Jalandhar Polai, another WASH committee member from Ogalpur village. 

This is a replicable model which the state government should adopt, especially in the districts where the groundwater is contaminated with iron. There is clearly a demand for the same.


Written By Savvy Soumya Misra, Research Coordinator at Oxfam India  

Picture Credit: Animesh Prakash, Programme Officer- DRR, Odisha.


[i] (till Dec 31, 2014)

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