Water Filters For Better Health

Water Filters For Better Health

“These days when our relatives come to visit us they drink water from our home”, said Alaka Swain, 38, of Kaudikhani village under Kadua Gram Panchayat in Kanas block of Odisha’s Puri district, while showing the water stored in a plastic bottle. “See these bottles do not turn yellow like before. We are now getting clean water like you people get in your homes”, said Alaka with a smile.

Things were quite different a few years back. People living in different villages in Kanas block, situated only 15-20 km away from Chilika lake, were suffering for years in getting clean drinking water. The main source of water, on which they are dependent, are tube wells with having high iron contents and saline in taste. Thus, villagers used to complain of stomach ailments, skin problems and diarrhea. “Most of our containers (pitchers, buckets and other vessels) used to turn into yellow because of high iron content and the taste was saline with bad odour. During flood the contaminated flood water used to enter inside tube well forcing women to search for other sources to collect water”, said Tukuni Swain, another woman of Kaudikhani village.

To avoid this iron content and saline water, women of Harihara Patna village used to walk 8-10 kms daily to nearby Luna River, a tributary of River Daya to meet the needs of the family. “Even pregnant women trudged long distances in very advanced stages of their pregnancy," said Damayanti Behera, adding, during monsoon (chaturmasa) most of the villagers used to suffer from water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, jaundice and stomach pain, among them children were worst sufferers.

The river water, they collect for drinking and household needs, was polluted and contaminated during monsoon especially as Bhubaneswar dumped its waste in this tributary. Political representatives and government officials had visited many times to their village and promised them to provide clean drinking water, but they never kept their promises.

During Cyclone Phailin and Cyclone Fani, which hit Odisha coast in 2013 and 2019, villagers faced numerous difficulties in getting clean drinking water. “Tanker services were provided to villages but for few days, which was not sufficient to meet the need of the family. So, we were collecting polluted water and spending hours to make it drinkable”, said Damayanti.

It was in 2016, some villagers including the then Sarpanch of the Kaudikhani village went to Ogalpur for some work, where they saw the water filter plant, they decided to install in their village. They approached Oxfam India and SOLAR NGO and after a brief discussion and testing of water quality, the plant was installed in Kaudikhani village. The water from IRP is sufficient to meet the drinking and cooking needs of every household. The taste of the water has also improved.

Setting up of Iron Removal Plant

In 2016, then Sarpanch of Kaudikhani village and a few villagers, heard about IRP (Iron Removal Plant), which was set up in Ogalpur by SOLAR, a non-profit organisation, with the support of Oxfam India and Livpure Foundation. “We immediately approached them and after a brief discussion and testing of water quality they installed IRP in Kaudikhani village,” said Aparti Swain, former Sarpanch of Kaudikhani.

The IRP has a capacity of 2,000 liters and is filled four times in a day to cater to 700-odd population of Kaudikhani. The motor pump lifts the water into the top chamber of the IRP and the filtered water is collected in lower chambers. The tube well water that gets filtered through the IRP is free of bad smell and taste. “With the installation of IRP villagers are now getting sufficient and clean water to meet their drinking and cooking needs”, he added.

In Karamala Beherasahi, cognisant of the plight of women in collecting and storing water, Ward Member Mrutyunjay Behera, raised the issue at Panchayat disaster risk integration meeting. “I approached SOLAR NGO to visit our village and assess the need to instal an IRP as women spent hours to collect water.” After the installation of IRP in 2017 now women are happy as clean drinking water is available at their doorstep. They don’t have to spend hours in collecting, boiling and storing water.

“Water from IRP tastes good and we are also using it for cooking purposes”, said Jashoda Behera. As IRP provides clean drinking water, villagers are spending, time, effort and money to keep the surroundings and the tank clean. Every month villagers collect Rs 30 from each family for maintenance work such as cleaning of the surrounding and tank, bleaching and candle replacement. “Villagers happily participate in cleaning work as they feel they own it”, said Sushama Swain, Secretary, Water and Sanitation (WASH) Committee of Kaudikhani village.

Positive impact

Alaka chips in, “Since childhood I have seen my bou and mausi and other women in the village toiling hard to collect water and then spend hours in boiling, cooling and storing it for drinking and cooking purposes. From morning to till they go to bed they engage in household work, and a major part was dedicated to collecting and storing water”.  She also went through the same ordeal, but with the installation of IRP now the women are getting some time to take rest, which was not possible earlier.

As women were responsible to collect and store water, in most of the villages of Kanas block, it was an unspoken labour which every woman had to go through. “We often were suffering from unbearable body ache”, said Harasmani Padhan adding IRP has provided us relief from body pain as well as clean drinking water for the family. During Covid as government has insisted on regular hand washing, women are happy that IRP has reduced their work burden as water is available at their doorstep. Besides, after installation of IRP sufferings from stomach related diseases have also reduced in these villages.

Till now, Oxfam India has installed 15 IRPs in Kanas block, 7 in Brahmagiri and 3 in Satyabadi blocks. “There few on-going projects too keeping the demand of the locals”, said Chitta Parida, Programme Manager, SOLAR. 

Ending Discrimination 

During Fani when the solar panel broken due to storm and heavy rainfall, the villagers bought diesel genset to continue water supply. “We still remember the difficulties we faced during Cyclone Phailin. Since we had water this time, we ensured that fisherfolk communities from the neighbouring villages would also collect water from our taps so that they had access to clean drinking water," said Prakash Swain, ward member.

The many years of interaction with villages along the issue of access to safe and clean drinking water has at least helped bring about some changes in the ways of thinking and breaking down barriers. For instance, the acknowledgement of a woman's unpaid care work, here in the form of spending hours in trying to collect and provide safe drinking water to finally finding a solution for it, is a step towards ending gender discrimination.

Members of higher caste denying water to those from the lower caste is not unheard of. Here the fact that Prakash mentions is crucial— while fisherfolk are considered to be lower caste, the village had welcomed them to access their water filter plants. This breaking down of social barriers is also a welcome move. In fact all of Oxfam's humanitarian's WASH work has historically ensured that after a disaster tube wells etc were fixed in areas of the marginalised and vulnerable communities—Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis—in the villages. This was because they were the ones worst affected and had no resources to access water either on their own or from those parts of the villages that were dominated by the upper caste families. 

Rakhi Ghosh is an independent journalist based out of Bhubaneswar. She has worn several awards for reporting from rural India and on issues related to women and children, environment, health, education and human rights. This story was done as part of an Oxfam India assignment.

Photo Courtesy: Tofan Biswal

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