The importance of drinking water

The provision of 382  sanitary  toilets  in  six  villages in Morigaon and Kamrup-Rural districts of Assam;  all  these  villages  are now 100 per cent Open Defecation Free. Let’s now take a look at the two other aspects of  the project  implemented  by Rashtriya Gramin Vikas Nidhi(RGVN), and which was  fully  funded by the CSR Programme of IFCI Limited.

Drinking Water before and after the Project

The drinking water intervention:

The  drinking water  situation  in  rural Assam  is  extremely  grim, with people  consuming untreated water  from iron and bacteria-infested ponds, wells, streams  and  rivers.  In many  areas, consumption of untreated water polluted with fluoride and/or arsenic has resulted  in  severe  health  problems (physical deformities caused by  fluorosis,  arsenic poisoning).

Equally  serious  is  the  problem  of non-availability of  even  raw water  in many  villages  in  the winter  season, which typically extends from November  to April, when most  sources  of ground and surface water dry up. To ameliorate  this problem,  IFCI-RGVN came up with an indigenously designed solar-powered piped-water supply system which has  been  successfully  implemented  in  five villages.

Water sourced from a shallow bore-well is pumped by a submersible solar pump, aerated, and clarified and purified by lime and alum (a low-cost yet effective solution, using locally available purification agents). The treated water is then pumped up, via a turbidity-cum-iron  filterby  another  solar pump  to overhead storage  tanks. Finally,  the water  is piped  by  gravity-feed to secondary storage tanks in dispensing  kiosks  located  at multiple points  in  the  village.  Safe drinking water is  now  available  to  residents within 10 – 50 meters of their front-gates, as well as at the local schools. Beneficiaries typically contribute Rs. 25 per month per household to the Village Committee to cover costs of daily operations and long-term repairs  and maintenance. This works out to a mere 3.33 paise per liter of safe drinking water (computed at five liters/person/day for a  five-member household, for 30 days a month)! Independent third-party post-implementation surveys in two of the villages have revealed that the incidence of stomach and skin ailments, after installation of the drinking water systems, has almost been eliminated. The major challenge was  to prove to the “naysayers” that a solar-powered solution is feasible and cost-effective. Well, the two plants in Morigaon District have successfully weathered two consecutive monsoons (2016 and 2017) with a near-perfect  record of  daily water supply; and the three plants in Kamrup-Rural  District,  commissioned thereafter, have coasted through possibly  the worst monsoon  season  in recent memory without any major interruptions.

The solar energy initiative:

With the government according high priority to  rural  electrification  in  recent years, India’s rural households are now being connected to the electricity grid at a rapid pace. However, a major lacuna is  the  lack of electricity  in  local schools and community-centre’s; most poor and under-privileged rural communities  can neither  afford  the one-time cost of getting electricity connections, nor the recurring cost of monthly electricity charges for such essential community  facilities.

Responding to this need, five rooftop solar  nano grids were  provided under the IFCI-RGVN project, to two schools and three community-centre’s in  the project  area  for powering  indoor lights, fans and street lights. With bright lights and whirring fans in their classrooms, students in these schools can now study in comfort. The community-centre’s, equipped with indoor lights, fans and street lights allow the villagers  to  congregate  and  conduct community activities in comfort, anytime of day or night. As  in  the case of  drinking water,  beneficiaries  contribute a nominal monthly amount of Rs. 15  to Rs. 25 per household  to the Village Committee to cover operation costs and long-term repairs and maintenance of  the  solar  system(s).

The way forward:

It is indeed a pity that only a handful of corporate houses (e.g. IFCI Limited and Assam Gas Company Limited) have  so  far committed  significant  funds  under  their CSR Programmes for providing high quality  and  durable  toilets,  drinking water supply systems, and solar energy solutions in the true spirit of PURA (Providing Urban-amenities  to Rural Areas), the brainchild of India’s former President, the late APJ Abdul Kalam. Here’s  an  illustration of what our governments and bureaucrats can do. Acting on RGVN’s request, the eight km. stretch of road between Chandubi Beel and Bherbheri Village (and the five  decaying wooden  bridges  there in), which once  looked  like  a  scene from war-torn Afghanistan, were  rebuilt by the Deputy Commissioner of the  then Kamrup-Rural District within a mere six weeks. More such initiatives  can  completely  transform  our rural landscape!

And  finally, we  share  below  our experience-based  perspective  on what  can be achieved with an allocation of Rs. one core for transformation  of  a  typical  100 household village/community-cluster  in  the State:  (a) Good quality sanitary  toilets  to  each  and  every  household; (b) A reliable solar-powered community drinking water  supply  system; (c) Infrastructure upgrade and renovation  of  a  local  LP  School  and  a Community centre,  including  provision  of  solar-powered  lights,  fans and street lights; (d) Comprehensive training and hands-on technical sup-port for Rural Livelihood and Income Enhancement;  and  (e)  Solar-powered  irrigation  pumps  to  facilitate winter-cropping.

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