Making Clean Drinking Water Accessible

Making Clean Drinking Water Accessible

Sixty-year-old Sushila Sethi is elated. Forty years after coming to this sleepy village as a young bride she finally has access to clean drinking water. Her smiling eyes have delight, satisfaction, contentment, gratitude, sheer joy and a sense of empowerment.

Her extended family along with 48 others in Gamu village in Bari block of Jajpur in Odisha have lived through years of drinking water high in iron and other contaminants. This has not just affected their health but also caused a health-bill-sized dent in their already small household budgets. Iron contaminated water is the root of several water borne diseases.

Gamu, a coastal village vulnerable to multiple disasters, was devastated in the 1999 Super Cyclone. As the recovery and reconstruction phase rolled out, the village received a gift ‘from the government’—IM-2 tube well. This was sunk by the Rural Water Supply & Sanitation (RWSS) department especially for the most marginalised Dalit communities in the village. But this tube well couldn’t solve the issue of water quality. Women continued to draw water but only after tying a piece of cloth to the water outlet in order to filter out the contaminants. But that did not do anything to the iron content which remained much above the maximum permissible limit of 1 ppm as per Indian Drinking Water Standards.

Oxfam India had worked in some of these villages as part of its humanitarian and disaster risk reduction programme. In 2020, the villagers got in touch with volunteers of Pallishree, a local NGO once a partner of Oxfam India, for a solution for clean drinking water.

Back in 2015, Oxfam India had set up Iron Removal Plants (IRPs) or in simple terms water filters that removed iron from ground/surface water in Kanas block in Puri. The villages were happy and there was a decline in the water borne diseases. In 2018, Oxfam India partnered with Livpure Foundation and once again decided to set IRPs in villages, especially flood-prone villages in Balasore, Jajpur and Puri district.

The technology i.e. the terra filters was designed by CSIR—Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (IMMT), Bhubaneswar. The two-tank filter unit uses 14 Terrafil candles, 7 in each tank.  Each Terrafil candle, of 200 mm diameter and 50 mm thickness, filters an average of 15 litres of water per hour. Terrafil candle removes 90-95% of soluble iron, 99% of turbidity and 95-100% of micro-organisms. It also improves colour and odour of raw water.

Though Gamu received its 1785 litre IRP in 2020, IRPSs were already set up in 49 villages since 2018. Families are happy—now the water stored at home neither turns red nor does it have a foul smell.

It Isn’t Just About The Water

Providing quality drinking water is empowering women; they are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to safe drinking water as they carry the burden of water collection, sanitation, cooking, caring and hygiene. So it made a lot of sense for women to take control of their new water units.

As part of the community-managed sustainable model, 15-member women-led Water UsersCommittee were formed in the villages. The committee shouldered the responsibility of managing the asset created in the village, as well as its operation and maintenance.

The Committee plays a critical role in ensuring ownership of the asset as well rooting out issues regarding the water filter and its functioning. These are issues such as using solar power to draw water, installation of structures on platforms taller than the high flood line to keep the filters safe during disasters, opening of a bank account in the name of the Users’ Committee, capacity building on regular operation & maintenance, chlorination and overall cleanliness around the water tanks.

Making Water Truly Accessible

Service facilities and infrastructures, depending on how they are planned and built, can impede or enable access, participation, and inclusion of all members of the society. The concerns of Sukalpada village in Puri were just like any other coastal and disaster-prone village—high iron content and high salinity. The village is vulnerable to floods and cyclone. Along with volunteers of SOLAR, another NGO based in Puri and an erstwhile partner of Oxfam India, discussions were held with village communities. A 3500-litre IRP was planned. Due to the high flood line, the water outlet was on a raised platform and so a side ramp with grab bar leading up to the tap was built to make it accessible to the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Accessibility limitations add to the disadvantage and further marginalisation of persons with disabilities leading to disproportionate poverty, deprivation, and exclusion. The community in Sukalpada were more than happy to contribute both labour and construction material to make this little tweak to the structure making the water filter resilient, accessible, and non-discriminatory.

Forty-nine year old Laxmidhar Pradhan is thrilled with the IRP in Sukalpada, his village. Mobility-impaired Laxmidhar is thrilled because he can now easily access this facility just like the other 105 families in the village.

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