A practical paper that addresses vital gaps in water quality monitoring and institutional weakness, focuses on the role of access and interventions in severely contaminated areas and calls for a drastic shift in the monitoring and intervention strategy to address safe water provision for rural Bihar
Access to safe water is a prerequisite to good health. Bihar faces a tremendous challenge in ensuring this basic access to safe water for its population of 83 million, both in terms of sustainability and contamination.
This paper 'Access, monitoring and intervention challenges in the provision of safe drinking water in rural Bihar, India' is based on a survey-cum-study undertaken on identifying quality-affected villages in the state. The results from the study indicate that hand pumps are the major source of drinking and shallow hand pumps at households (private), outnumber the government-created sources.
The study shows that the total number of dysfunctional hand pumps vary from 24 to 31% with a significant number in fluoride-affected areas. Also the number of dysfunctional hand pumps created by the government is increasing due to lesser stress on operation and maintenance than privately owned hand pumps.
This shift of water sources from traditional unprotected wells, that offered relative safety from geogenic chemicals, like arsenic, fluoride and iron, has led to an increased number of shallow hand pumps in Bihar. These unmonitored household sources are at risk of arsenic and fluoride exposure. And if the present trend of usage of unmonitored household water sources remains unabated, more habitations and communities will be affected by this.
Another pertinent observation is the inadequacy of the monitoring of water quality and mapping of water contamination based on the government created sources, which fails to reflect the ground reality; hence the study calls for mandatory testing of private sources .
Installation of community level centralized treatment plants, as carried out by the state government, has been unable to solve the problem as access to safe drinking water remains unresolved till date. The study recommends the promotion of affordable ‘Point of use filters’ as an interim measure for arsenic and fluoride management.
Deepening of shallow hand pumps at households may also be considered as one practical option using micro financial institutions. The study also advocates need for research to be undertaken to understand the future risk of exposure to arsenic due to large-scale motorized abstraction for water village supply and tube well-based agriculture in Bihar.
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