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Water treatment to mitigate arsenic pollution in different arsenic affected villages of West Bengal

Lead Dermatologist: Dr. Pradip Kumar Das
Project team members: Dr. Suhas Bhattacharya, Dr. Sourav Dhara, Dr. Kathakali Chatterjee, Dr. S. K. Laha
Affiliation: Swasthya Bhabna Welfare Organization, India

 

Water treatment

 

This project aims for the provision of arsenic-free ‘safe’ drinking water and purposeful mitigation of Arsenicosis for the villagers of West Bengal, through community action and creating mass awareness

Executive summary

This project aims to provide arsenic-free ‘safe’ drinking water to the villagers under seven districts of Paschimbanga in West Bengal; and purposeful mitigation of arsenicosis through community action and creating mass awareness.
Rural communities will be empowered to prevent and reduce arsenic contamination in groundwater using low cost, low maintenance, and sustainable solutions. Relief from skin disease for the affected victims will be provided.
Research and development will be conducted into the mitigation of arsenic pollution, and preventing/reducing further complications of arsenicosis. Overall sustained environmental development and better quality of life will be assured by the socio­economic upliftment of the people.

The challenge

Arsenic is reported to have alarming levels in the groundwater in nine districts of West Bengal. As per reports, 560 villages are affected, more than one million people are at risk. Thousands are suffering from arsenic induced skin lesions that might develop into cancer. Arsenic in groundwater has been found above the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and WHO’s maximum permissible limit of 0.01PPM. Average concentration of arsenic in most of the tube well water of affected villages is about 0.20PPM, rising up to as high as 3.7 PPM in some villages. This catastrophic situation could potentially effect an area of 37,000 km2, and an approximate population of 34 million. The first signs of ill health are changes in skin pigmentation (raindrop pigmentation, melanosis, keratosis, hyperkeratosis). Often these are on the soles of feet and palms of hands, making walking and working with hands very painful. Finally, arsenic is a potential carcinogen, and skin cancer or gangrene can occur after prolonged exposure. The source of arsenic is geological with high levels of arsenic in basement rocks. The problem is aggravated by over­pumping of groundwater and inadequate treatment facilities. People in West Bengal dug wells to draw water from aquifers anywhere up to 150 metres below ground level. To produce three to four crops a year, thousands of tube wells were installed and these have aggravated the problem to a large extent.

Project overview

Goal:

The provision of arsenic-free ‘safe’ drinking water to the villagers, and purposeful mitigation of arsenicosis through community action and creating mass awareness.

Purpose:

To improve drinking water quality by motivating the rural community to prevent and reduce arsenic contamination in groundwater.

Objectives:

  • Establish community groups to take action on arsenicosis as a sustainable community institution.
  • Improve drinking water quality in arsenic affected areas through ground and surface water treatment and rainwater harvesting.
  • Increase prevention of arsenicosis through improved community awareness, diagnosis and treatment.
  • Carry out research and development with new technologies towards mitigation of arsenic pollution, and genetic study of the already affected arsenicosis patients to prevent/reduce further complications of arsenicosis.
  • Arrange for self-income generation/self-dependence amongst the arsenicosis affected patients.

Project beneficiaries:

Target groups represent the population which is already affected or at risk of arsenic contamination, with a focus on the basic needs of the people in arsenic affected villages under seven districts of Paschimbanga (North 24Prgs., South 24Prgs., Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, Burdwan and Hooghly).

Summary of Activities:

  • Establish self­sustaining ‘community group’ in the project village. These community groups become actively involved in preventing and reducing arsenicosis.
  • Reliable and scientifically accepted database on arsenic levels in groundwater for the project village becomes available.
  • Scientifically reliable QA/QC laboratory established and manpower trained to carry out water quality analysis.
  • Capacity building of local NGO, Voluntary Organisations and Panchayats to tackle similar problem in the locality in the future.
  • A better inter­agency co­ordinated working atmosphere established for undertaking similar projects in the future.
  • Better health status assured for the arsenic affected villagers.
  • Community treatment plants/domestic filters installed and arsenic levels brought within permissible levels in drinking water.
  • Rainwater harvesting structures created.
  • Surface water treatment unit installed.
  • Development of effective and qualitative IEC materials for creating mass awareness (such as posters, hand bills, booklets, wall paintings, audio cassettes, stickers, visual display).
  • Awareness camps organized and awareness generated in project village.
  • Medical treatment camps organized.
  • Overall sustained environmental development and better quality of life assured in the arsenic affected areas by socio­economic upliftment of the people (health expense savings diverted to productive activities).

How were the project recipients involved in the planning of the project?

The overall project strategy is community empowerment at the village level to solve the growing problem of arsenic contamination in West Bengal using low cost, low maintenance and sustainable solutions.

 

How and to what extent will the project recipients participate in the implementation of the project?

-     Communities will be trained, motivated and sensitized to the problem.
-     Beneficiary committee to be formed for proper maintenance of the arsenic removal plants.
-     Trained local doctors will be responsible for immediate detection, further treatment and follow up of arsenic affected patients.

Project overview

  • Identification of affected persons
  • Rapid assessment of water quality
  • Capacity building through training
  • Provision of safe drinking water through groundwater treatment, surface water upgradation and rainwater harvesting
  • Mass communication for awareness generation
  • Periodical health check-up to detect arsenicosis and take measures for treatment and prevention of complications
  • Development of self-income generation groups
  • Research and development of newer technologies for arsenic removal, and medical research for prevention of complications