Water quality testing plays a critical role in India in ensuring it meets its objectives to provide safe drinking water to every citizen. And today in the times of COVID-19, it plays an even greater role, as poor water quality is proven to be a major factor in reducing immunity levels in people.
Whilst India is grappling with a water crisis that sees communities struggle to 'access' water for basic household and livelihood needs, a secondary issue lurks in the background that threatens the health of villagers across the country. The quality of drinking water is a widely emerging issue that threatens the country - especially in rural areas with a dependence on groundwater as a source of drinking water.
Declining water quality has become a national issue of concern with India's rapidly growing population, expanding industrial and agricultural activities, and climate change threats - causing major alterations to the hydrological cycle. Today most of rural India is facing severe water quality problems. According to Water Aid India*, 45 districts from ten states affected with arsenic, fluoride is present in 202 districts and 20 states, nitrate in 141 districts and 21 states, and iron in 258 districts and 24 states.' Additionally, microbiological contamination in drinking water is a major contributor to diarrhoeal diseases.
In Ambujanagar, Kodinar in rural Gujarat, the presence of high levels of TDS (Total Dissolvable solids) and salinity were the main causes of concern that were impacting the health indicators of villagers - with people suffering from kidney stones, hypertension or digestive issues due to the high levels of salt in their water. Additionally, there was an increased prevalence of water borne diseases at the onset of monsoon due to increase in bacteria in the water. In response, ACF mobilised into action, to empower communities to test and monitor the quality of their water supply.
To tackle the problem, ACF initiated a three-phased program to increase awareness of the problem and empower communities to solve it themselves.
Phase 1 - Awareness: The first step was to conduct a widespread awareness campaign by creating a huge poster in the Common Area of the villages explaining the concept of Total Dissolvable Solids (TDS) levels, its permissible limit in water and the effects of TDS imbalances. ACF also hired a vehicle to create announcements in the villages about the ill effects of poor-quality water on health.
Phase 2 - Testing: In the second phase, ACF started testing the bacteria present in the water by purchasing H2S Vial bottles along with a bacteria drip. The sample water collected was inserted with this bacterial drip and placed in room temperature for 24 hrs. If the water turned black it resulted in the presence of bacteria in the water. ACF invited villagers to common water sources to perform live demonstrations. Bacterial testing bottles were distributed to encourage people to try their own testing. Once the community started seeing the results, they were motivated to have more common drinking water sources tested and commence testing in their own homes.
Phase 3 - Water Treatment: In the third phase, ACF wanted to empower people with the knowledge and skills to start taking action on water quality testing themselves. Whilst they knew about TDS levels, as well as how to recognize bacteria present in their water, they were still unaware of how to solve the issue. ACF conducted demonstrations on how to chlorinate the water so that it is drinkable - training Water Operators on how much chlorine powder is required for a quantity of water and how to mix it, providing chloro-scope metres to measure the residual chlorine in drinking water and training about how to maintain the right proportions.
Soon ACF saw changes in the community with members approaching them with results or asking for advice on administering solutions. To address other issues around water quality, ACF encouraged the community to clean community water storage tanks frequently along with household RRWHS structures. The villagers today are ensuring that water storage tanks are cleaned thoroughly and frequently.
Today, the community is no longer dependent on ACF or the local authorities to check the quality of their water. Take the case of Ram Singh from Thoradi village, who now periodically collects chlorine tablets from the local authorities to clean the water in his Rainwater Storage tank or Lakhambhai who regularly engages volunteers to come and clean his tank.
ACF carried out this campaign during the peak summer period as the TDS levels in saline zones rise at that time. Additionally, there was enhanced focus during the monsoon period when a rise in bacterial levels is observed in water. Since initiating the program in 2017, ACF has managed to make 13 villages independent in testing their own water quality and hopes to reach many more villages.
ACF takes a participatory approach across all its interventions, and over the past 27 years it has seen long-term, sustainable success in many of its programs by taking this 'people-centred' approach. The approach has also borne results in Water Quality Testing with communities reporting a significant drop in the number of health-related issues.
To have ACF implement a water quality testing campaign in your region or to know more, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org