Cause for concern

According to a study, people in Rupandehi district are having to cope with unsafe tube wells which happen to be the only source of drinking water. Twenty-one per cent of 550,000 people in the district depend on contaminated tube wells while another 53 per cent cope with relatively lower levels of contamination. Only a marginal 26 per cent of the lot have access to safe water. About 65 per cent of the tube wells are infected one way or another. The source of the problem, however, happens to be the lack of sanitation measures. Only 20 per cent of the population uses toilets. Most of the wells are without concrete preventive structures because of which water is infected at an uncontrolled rate. Some 122 schools and another 180 organisations working in the district too do not have toilets. That is a serious cause for concern by any reckoning.

No wonder the district registered one of the highest numbers of patients suffering from diarrhoea, dysentery, worms, skin diseases and even respiratory illnesses, all of them water-borne diseases. This is a picture that best explains what the absence of clean drinking water does to a population. But most people, because of ignorance, find it convenient to either ignore calls to build toilets or simply go about defecating in the open. That is where the administration needs to chip in by informing the people about the importance of building a latrine and actually using it. The government has now undertaken an ambitious plan to broaden the sanitary infrastructure in the western and far-western development regions. Reports like this one should, therefore, come in handy for the project organisers. The present study outlines the importance of the task the nearly $41 million dollar project seeks to accomplish. One can only hope it benefits the needy like those in Rupandehi.

Unbelievable as it sounds to urbanites, rural people seldom have the means to erect a toilet, far less have the urge and awareness to drink boiled or filtered water. They are yet to actually reap the benefits of many development endeavours that have come and gone. Some 63 per cent of those who sought medical help suffered from one or other kind of water-borne disease last year. The problem of water contamination has reached epidemic proportions. The government, NGOs and INGOs working to improve the public health sector need to disinfect water sources, besides launching awareness campaigns. Unless the erection and use of toilets is encouraged by providing soft loans or through a reward system, the picture is unlikely to change anytime soon. Rupandehi is only a tip of the iceberg. The scenario in other districts too needs to be studied, and, of course, addressed.