KARNATAKA

The water here brings disease

DANGER TO HEALTH: Water being collected from a borewell at Sanjay Gandhi Nagar slum in Bangalore on Friday. The water from the borewell located close to a sewage-filled storm-water drain is contaminated. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

DANGER TO HEALTH: Water being collected from a borewell at Sanjay Gandhi Nagar slum in Bangalore on Friday. The water from the borewell located close to a sewage-filled storm-water drain is contaminated. Photo: K. Murali Kumar  

Divya Gandhi

The nitratetrail Nitrate levels are twice the permissible limit in Sanjay Gandhi Nagar slum

Bangalore: There was no disputing the quality of water when Kamalamma, a young mother from Sanjay Gandhi Nagar slum near Peenya, brought out a cup of water from a stainless steel pot that sat in the middle of a bare kitchen. A thick white film clung to the sides of the cup. "We use this water only to bathe and wash our clothes with," she says, "but I cannot always be sure that my daughters will not drink it by mistake." She has spent Rs. 500 on medical bills this month, and now Kalaselvi, her six-year-old daughter has diarrhoea.

Gastroenteritis

"I see at least 20 cases of gastroenteritis a day," says Tanvir Ahmed, a doctor who treats residents from this particular slum. He attributes this and the prevalence of dermatitis, and even occasional cases of poisoning, entirely to groundwater contamination. "I advise them to boil water to reduce bacteriological contamination, but I realise that this could also increase the levels of nitrate further," he says. "I can only tell them to avoid drinking the water altogether."

But Dr. Tanvir says he understands the dilemma. The 500 families of Sanjay Gandhi Nagar, he knows, have little choice but to depend on the erratic borewell.

Nitrate levels are twice the permissible limit in the slum, according to a yearlong study commissioned in 2004 by Janasahayog, a Bangalore-based non-governmental organisation. The report showed that groundwater here was hard, E. coli count was a high 180 per 100 ml (the normal is zero), and the test for coliform bacteria was positive.

Nitrate poisoning in humans may not manifest itself immediately. Since nitrates are carried through sewage, groundwater in areas such as Sanjay Gandhi Nagar slum, which has high nitrate content, will typically also have high bacterial contamination.

The water here is "unfit for potable purposes" says the Janasahayog report. A health report from the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) on this particular slum in 2005 established a clear link between the high levels of water-borne infection in children and the contamination of drinking water with sewage. The solitary borewell in the area, provided by the Slum Clearance Board, is located not more that five metres from the sewage-filled storm-water drain that flows through the slum complex.

Kamalamma's husband earns Rs. 150 as daily wages as a construction labourer. Water is bought from a private borewell owner 2 km away, at a price of Re. 1 for a 15-litre pot. Residents in areas with access to water from the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) pay no more than 9 paise for the same quantity.

Ten to twenty such buckets are carried back to the slum every day, by foot or on bicycles, just about meeting the needs of a family of four. The hand-pump often has to be used to supplement this.

"The BWSSB did provide us with tanker water for three months after we protested outside the CMC office," says Malayan, a member of the Bangalore Slum Janara Kriya Vedike, a rights organisation established a year ago. Mr. Malayan said the supply quickly ceased for "want of funds" cited as the official reason.

Across the main road, the Sonal Garment Factory, where several of the women from the slum work, receives piped Cauvery water.

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