For five long years residents of this remote village, struck by skeletal fluorosis, have been waiting for a promise that has even today remained unfulfilled: potable water from the river Tungabhadra.

Routine assurances of river water by successive MLAs have been all but forgotten, says farmer Siddappa B.H. Tungabhadra water — something that several towns and villages in the area enjoy — is critical for Sogival. In its absence, residents are forced to consume water from three borewells that yield water saturated with 4.84 ppm of fluoride.

Beginnings

The problem began 25 years ago when the zilla panchayat dug the first borewell in this drought-prone village, Siddappa explains. “We had an open well and a tank but they dried up over time.” Although the panchayat knew about the excessive fluoride in the groundwater, they spent Rs. 10 lakh to dig two new borewells recently, rather than restore surface water.

Even the district administration had been told about the gravity of the problem way back in 1996, says Jagadish T. Gudagur, Associate Professor, Karnatak Science College, Dharwad, who has studied fluoride in the Shirahatti taluk for over a decade. “It is shocking that nothing has been done yet.”

Most worrying for the adults of the village is that fluorosis is beginning to affect the health and education of the children. “Almost every child in this village has dental hypoplasia [identified by mottled teeth] which is the first sign of fluorosis,” observed Dr. Gudagur. And some adolescents, like 14-year-old Murugesh, are beginning to show signs of skeletal fluorosis.

Burden

But this is not the only malaise that threatens the young. As adults grow increasingly feeble, the burden of income falls on the children.

For instance, Murugesh's father will take him out of school this year so he can work on their farm. The two teenaged daughters of Ramegowda C. Patil, likewise, have left school to work as agricultural labourers.

Yellavva (70) is disabled by the disease and offers an ominous forecast for Sogival: “I will die of this disease... I can only hope that my grandchildren do better,” she says. “If something isn't done soon the days for this village are numbered.”