Groundwater contamination and rural water treatment in Gujarat - a discussion paper by Carewater INREM foundation

The discussion paper deals with groundwater contamination and rural water treatment in Gujarat, as quality problem of this important drinking water source has led to high social costs

carewaterThe state is characterized by varied hydrogeology and vast areas are faced with typical groundwater quality problems like fluoride. Much of the coastal groundwater is saline while the alluvial tract is marked with inland salinity.

In view of the fact that groundwater has emerged as the most important drinking water source in rural areas, these quality problems have led to high social costs in terms of health and related issues. Studies done in affected pockets of the State indicate that a large part of the family income is spent in medical costs and wage losses. 

A variety of policies have been prescribed for supplying safe drinking water to rural areas such as regional piped water supply as well as local water treatment programs. The regional water supply schemes suffer from problems in cost recovery and therefore low fund availability for repair and maintenance rendering the system unreliable.

Various community based programs on local water treatment have been tried in the past, but only few of these have succeded. The rural rich are able to afford alternative options from the private sector such as domestic water treatment plants and bottled water treated by medium to large water treatment systems. 

Newer options that are coming up are multiple use of such treatment plants for industrial as well as domestic usage. The solution to rural water treatment in Gujarat needs to be looked at from multiple fronts. Local treatment of unsafe water is currently being achieved through a variety of community and private initiatives. The future lies in providing safe drinking water in rural areas at low cost on a sustainable basis through a mix of these options. 

Development of policies aimed at creating sustainable treatment systems in rural areas, therefore, have to keep in mind this heterogeneity in situation before promoting one or few of the current options.  

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