News / Asia

    Pond Water Brings Relief to India’s ‘Arsenic Belt’

    Pond Water Brings Relief to India’s ‘Arsenic Belt’i
    X
    March 18, 2016 10:07 AM
    In the 1960s, as the drilling of tube wells began in eastern India, people were advised to switch to the practice of drinking groundwater to protect themselves from cholera and other water-borne epidemics. But the switch from traditional dug wells to tube wells proved fatal in the 1990s, when a high level of arsenic contamination was detected in water from tube wells in Bangladesh and in eastern India. Now, ponds provide a safer source of water. VOA's Maaz Hussain reports.

    Farm laborer Gostha Das drank contaminated water for years. 

    That is not unusual for someone living in a village in the middle of eastern India’s arsenic belt, but it still carries real dangers where arsenic-rich groundwater has maimed and killed people since the 1970s.

    About a decade ago, when he sought medical treatment for lesions on his palms and feet, Das was told he was suffering from arsenicosis, which can cause skin lesions, as well as cancers of the skin, lungs, kidneys and bladder and many other diseases. Doctors advised him to stop drinking the groundwater immediately. Yet he kept on drinking the contaminated water because he could not afford to buy regular bottled water.

    Das is happy now because of a new initiative by Delhi-based NGO Sulabh International Social Service Organization (SISSO) to treat pond water and use it to provide safe and affordable drinking water in his village of Madusudankati, 70 kilometers east of Kolkata. “Groundwater drawn from tube-wells filled my body with poison and I got the lesions. I had no money to buy safe bottled water, which was expensive. But from Sulabh, I am getting clean water at very cheap price now. This water has kept me fine,” he said.

    He added that some villagers have secretly had the water tested in labs, which found it to be free from all contaminants, including arsenic.

    SISSO founder Bindeshwar Pathak said his organization had been encouraged by the success of the pilot project in Madhusudankati and would try to come up with more such surface water treatment plants across the country’s arsenic-zones. "We will certainly expand. Now there is demand of such projects from many states after they heard of the news of success of this project from West Bengal,” Pathak said. “We have to certainly go with such projects throughout the country.”

    Manatosh Biswas, 51, from Teghoria village in theNorth 24 Paraganas district of West Bengal, is suffering from Bowen’s Disease- a pre-cancerous condition. (M. Hussain/VOA)
    Manatosh Biswas, 51, from Teghoria village in theNorth 24 Paraganas district of West Bengal, is suffering from Bowen’s Disease- a pre-cancerous condition. (M. Hussain/VOA)

    Cheap solutions

    While one liter of regular bottled water sells at 7 to 22 cents in the market. The treated pond water, which is supplied by Sulabh, costs less than a cent per liter. Sulabh water has now become a life line in a cluster of about a dozen villages of West Bengal’s arsenic belt.

    In the 1960s, as the drilling of tube wells began in eastern India, people were advised to switch to the practice of drinking groundwater, to protect themselves from cholera and other water-borne epidemics.

    But the switch from traditional dug wells to tube wells proved fatal in the 1990s, when a high level of arsenic contamination was detected in water from tube wells in Bangladesh and in eastern India.

    After doctors warned that millions of people in West Bengal were drinking arsenic-contaminated groundwater, the local government set up many arsenic removal plants. But, most of those plants in West Bengal having turned virtually dysfunctional for many reasons. For years, many experts have suggested using treated surface water as an easy solution to the drinking water problem in the area. But the advice was largely ignored, until recently.

    The Sulabh water project, which SISSO set up with assistance from the French NGO 1001 Fontaines, began feeding its modern treatment plant with only pond water.

    Water from this pond is used to feed the Sulabh Water plant at Madhusudankati village. “Bathing and washing of clothing are not allowed in this pond,” warns a signboard by the pond. (M. Hussain/VOA)
    Water from this pond is used to feed the Sulabh Water plant at Madhusudankati village. “Bathing and washing of clothing are not allowed in this pond,” warns a signboard by the pond. (M. Hussain/VOA)

    Push for more plants

    Pond water is traditionally meant for washing and bathing in the region and local residents usually avoid drinking it because it is frequently contaminated.

    In West Bengal’s arsenic belt, this is the first such project based on pond water and it has been quite successful in addressing the local drinking water crisis, said Kalipada Sarkar, secretary of the village cooperative that manages the Madhusudankati water treatment plant.

    “People in the surrounding villages have found Sulabh water beneficial for their health and they have widely accepted it. Villagers from far-off areas too are seeking access to this treated pond water now. But the capacity of our Madhusudankati project is limited,” said Sarkar. “We want others to set up many identical pond-based drinking water projects across the state’s arsenic belt.”

    Children collecting drinking water from a home tube well in Teghoria village, North 24 Paraganas. Arsenic-contaminated groundwater has killed scores of people in the vicinity in the past years. (M. Hussain/VOA)
    Children collecting drinking water from a home tube well in Teghoria village, North 24 Paraganas. Arsenic-contaminated groundwater has killed scores of people in the vicinity in the past years. (M. Hussain/VOA)

    Sulabh water has brought relief for the mostly poor people in arsenic-hit Madhusudankati and about a dozen surrounding villages, said local doctor Subal Sarkar.

    “Since people had been drinking arsenic-contaminated groundwater for years, arsenicosis cases of skin, liver, kidney, ulcerations in elementary systems were rising among the villagers. However, after they switched to the practice of drinking arsenic free Sulabh water last year, many arsenicosis patients are recovering gradually,” said Dr. Sarkar. “[The] number of new cases of arsenicosis has also dropped significantly.”

    Contaminated groundwater still being consumed

    In 2010, Jadavpur University's School of Environmental Studies (SoES) reported that in West Bengal at least five million people were drinking water with arsenic contamination at 50 ppb (parts per billion), five times higher than the World Health Organization's suggested limit of 10 ppb.

    In a report last month, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) said most of the arsenic removal plants were becoming dysfunctional in West Bengal, with a huge population of people being forced to drink water contaminated with a “dangerous level” of arsenic.

    Contaminated groundwater is also being used to irrigate food crops, and arsenic is entering the food chain in the region, the CGWB report added.

    Dipankar Chakraborti, a professor and research director of SoES who has been working on arsenic contamination of groundwater since the 1980s, said groundwater should be avoided in West Bengal’s arsenic belt.

    "All across West Bengal there are many ponds and other water bodies. In the arsenic belt the only solution, [where] the technology is known now, is use of the surface water. We should all adopt the simplest way, easy way, to clean the available surface water for [this] purpose,” Chakraborti said.

    You May Like

    South Sudan Sends First Ever Official Olympic Team to Rio

    VOA caught up with Santino Kenyi, 16, one of three athletes who will compete in this year's summer games in Brazil

    Arrest of Malawi's 'Hyena' Man Highlights Clash of Ritual, Health and Women's Rights

    Ritual practice of deflowering young girls is blamed for spreading deadly AIDS virus

    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    VOA finds things Americans take for granted are special to foreigners

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora