Namkhana (WB): Inadequate piped water supply is one of the main reasons for high instances of diarrhoea in Sunderbans, home to the world's largest mangrove forest, according to World Bank, which called for immediate concrete steps to tackle the problem.
“Only 32 per cent of households in the (entire) Sunderbans are covered by piped water supply (28 percent of the population). Piped water supply connections to households in South 24 Parganas blocks range from 3 per cent to 40 per cent, and the range for North 24 Parganas blocks is 21 percent to 57 percent,” a World Bank report stated. Sundarbans is situated in both North and South 24 Parganas districts of West Bengal.
The report, titled “Building Resilience for Sustainable Development of the Sunderbans - Strategy Report” said, “According to a study conducted under the NLTA, there were an estimated 1,925 deaths and over 1.5 million cases of diarrhoea in the the Sunderbans caused by inadequate household water supply, sanitation and hygiene in 2008.” Around 1,700 of those who died were children under five years of age.
Senior consultant with the World Bank Sanjay Gupta told PTI that the situation of drinking water supply in Sunderbans was very poor and called for immediate and concrete steps to tackle the problem and improve the situation. According to Gupta, piped water schemes supply water with an an average of 40 liters per capita per day while spot sources such as tubewells and hand pumps supply an average five liters per capita per day.
“One of the main problems in piped water supply is it requires electricity for pumping and many blocks are subject to frequent power outages,” Gupta said. The majority of households in Sunderbans rely on spot sources for water for drinking.
According to the report, a recent survey has pointed out that 91.9 per cent of the household in Sunderbans rely on public tubewell and six per cent on ponds.
Gupta pointed out that there are various problems in supplying water in the Sunderbans.
“There is scarcity of sweet water due to salinity intrusion into surface waters (ponds and rivers) and limited availability of sweet water aquifers. Another point is restricted yields of sweet water aquifers and submergence of water sources due to cyclones and floods. The quality of drinking water varies by location but salinity intrusion is a ongoing challenge,” the report stated. The report pointed out that salinity level is more than 1000 mg per litter, even beyond 300 m in depth, and sweet water is often available at a level at 1000m in depth. Drilling and extracting drinkable water from such depths is a challenging task.
“Salinity intrusion is causing tubewell sources to become saline especially during cyclonic storms and floods. A few pond based surface water schemes have been constructed but most were affected by saline water intrusion following cyclone Aila,” the report stated.
The report elaborated that different technologies need to be used in different blocks based on consideration of geographical, geophysical and population factors to ensure a full coverage of water supply.
“For areas where water supplies are highly saline, the PHED might consider RO plants that are provided with a pretreatment phase and ultraviolet radiation for disinfection. Bunds can be provided around ponds to prevent entry of saline water during cyclones and the water can be treated using pressure filters and hypochlorite solutions,” the report stated.
“Wherever economically feasible shallow tubewells should be recharged by harvesting roof water. Tubewell maintenance is not carried out on a regular basis and should be improved,” the report suggested.