A new initiative for improving access to clean water and educate the public about the hazards of drinking contaminated water with a rare collaboration among panchayat samitis, government departments and private institutions has improved the quality of life for many grappling with high fluoride content in water in Goner village, 20 km from here.

Fluoride in water is a major health hazard for the residents of Goner – comprising 800 households – and the diseases of bones, joints and teeth, including deformity, after long-term consumption of ground water are common among the villagers. Private organisations such as Nandi Foundation, Bosch and Mahatma Gandhi Medical College have joined hands with the local Panchayat Samiti and the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) to provide an answer to the challenge on the heath front for villagers by installing a reverse osmosis-based water purifier.

Bosch has donated the water purifier with the capacity of supplying 1,000 litres of water per hour for the entire village. Water is supplied on a nominal charge of Rs.92 per month for a household for a 20-litre canister everyday.

According to Mahatma Gandhi Medical College’s primary health care and strategic initiative director Kunal Kothari, the private players are operating the system for the benefit of villagers and helping out Goner Sarpanch Jagdish Prasad Sharma in spreading awareness about the project’s utility. The project has a provision for a lesser charge of Rs.62 for schools for the same 20-litre canister.

According to Dr. Kothari, the total take-off of the purified water is about 200 canisters per day in Goner. “The figures indicate that nearly 75 per cent of the village population is still relying on hand-pumps, bore-wells and PHED tankers,” he said emphasising the need to expand the project.

Damyanti Chaturvedi, in charge of the water purifier centre and surveyor of the reverse osmosis pump site, is making all attempts to educate the villagers and propagate the use of water purifier. The medical college has also taken up a house-to-house education programme to improve utilisation of the new facility in the village.

Dr. Kothari said the lone doctor posted at Goner’s primary health centre, Sunita Saini Ayush, feels the requirement of painkiller medicines and other drugs has decreased following a decline in incidence of diarrhoea and vomiting. Body parts such as bones, joints and teeth are likely to take some time for depicting the positive impact.

Most of the villagers, who have found the cooperative effort very useful, feel that it would minimise the health care costs following a good impact on the community health. The project needs replication in the vast rural areas of Rajasthan with slight changes to address the local needs.

Dr. Kothari pointed out that the project had included the panchayat samiti in the public-private partnership model for the first time, helping it in evolving a good quality drinking water supply mechanism in a rural area at affordable rates.

After the success of the Goner project, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College’s primary health care department has undertaken research on the logistics of water supply and the impact of collective efforts for health care and social uplift as well as the efforts to educate the rural populace about hazards of unclean water.

Dr. Kothari, who is also professor of clinical cardiology at the medical college, said the goal for 2025 set by the Global Water Challenge for supply of safe drinking water could be met if similar efforts were made elsewhere in the country on a large scale and the risk of water-borne diseases was minimised.