His gaunt frame propped by walking sticks, Ramegowda C. Patil looks far older than his 45 years. His painful limbs prevent him from working, and his six-acre farm has turned into a wasteland. His two older daughters have left school to work as agricultural labourers to earn for the family.
Skeletal fluorosis, a deadly affliction which has debilitated scores of adults, has also cast its shadow on the children of Sogival village, 60 km from Gadag town.
This irreversible condition is caused by excessive fluoride in drinking water. As the mineral collects in the skeleton over the years, it bends and stiffens the bones and immobilises the joints.
In Sogival, the groundwater, which is the only source of drinking water in the village, has a dangerous 4.84 ppm of fluoride (the acceptable limit is 1.5 ppm) due to a natural process of weathering of gneissic granite rocks, according to a recent analysis by Jagadish T. Gudagur, associate professor, Karnatak Science College, Dharwad.
What has residents distraught, however, is that various government representatives, despite being fully aware of the situation, have done little to provide a safe alternative.
While Dr. Gudagur had recorded that 100 people of the 383 in the village had skeletal fluorosis in 2008, he is alarmed to find that nearly two-thirds of the adult population has some degree of skeletal fluorosis now. With so many immobilised by the disease, the economy of the village — based primarily on rain-fed agriculture — is precarious.
Like Mr. Ramegowda, his neighbour B. Devappa (35) can barely spend a couple of hours at a stretch working on his 20-acre farm, where he once worked all day tending his groundnut, maize, jowar and tobacco crops.
“I used to earn Rs. 10,000 a year until four years ago, now I barely make Rs. 2,000,” he says.
Over time, the condition ravages the body. It has been a year since Yellavva (55) stood up — her legs are bent like bows. “The public health centre gave me these,” she says pulling out a strip of potent painkillers from under the mat she lies on. Parvathi (70) bent over at ninety degrees, struggles to walk.