TEXT AND PHOTOS BY MONOJ GOGOI
WATER SCARCITY IN ASSAM WAS UNTHINKABLE AS THE STATE HAD ABUNDANT WATER SOURCES INCLUDING HIGH RAINFALL AND INNUMEROUS PERENNIAL TRIBUTARIES OF THE BRAHMAPUTRA AND BARAK AND SEVERAL OTHER WATER BODIES. DUE TO AVAILABILITY OF GROUND WATER MOST PEOPLE DEPENDED UPON IT. NOW THE SOURCES OF WATER ARE GRADUALLY VANISHING, GROUNDWATER IS DEPLETING AT AN ALARMING RATE. PEOPLE FROM MANY AREAS ARE FACING HUGE WATER CRISIS.
(File photo: A girl is coming to a stream to bath and carry drinking water to her home)
Water is indispensable for existence and survival of life on earth, but thousands of people in the state of Assam particularly from the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh bordering areas have been facing tremendous water crisis for years. It is unbelievable but true that a women, in some parts of the district, walks up to 10 km a day only in collecting water for drinking and other domestic uses. About 2000 families of Bishnupur, Madanpur, Dirpai Shantipur, Kailashpur, Dharmapur, 2 no Sengelisuti, Pub Parvatipur and Pachim Parvatipur villages under Mingmang gram panchayat of Bordoloni Development Block have been using just two hilly streams- Chauldhuwa and Naharjan, which carry less than ankle-deep filthy water, as sources of water for all uses.
Pointing to the Naharjan, the shallow, filthy stream Basanta Das, a ward representative of the Pachayati Raj Institution (PRI) told ”We have been using these water for years. The government is not taking any initiative to solve this years long problem. Due to the consumption of these contaminated water people have been suffering from various water borne diseases.” He told that the Mising Autonomous Council (MAC) and the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department installed 6 wells here but all were defunct now due to the depletion of the ground water. Haru Das, who lives on the bank of the Chauldhuwa stream told, ”We tried to installed tubewells but failing to found water up to 80 feet and then we abandoned that plan and began to rely on these streams”. He also informed that failing to cope up with the water crisis, many families, over the years, left this arid region. Collecting water for household is normally a work of women here. A group of women who were collecting water in the Chauldhuwa stream overwhelmingly informed that water collecting was the most tedious and painful task in their day to day life. A younger women in the group told, ”The distance to my house is about a kilometre and I always carry water to my house twice or thrice. Moreover, we need to climb a thirty feet high gorge with the water pots”. Interacting with this group it was understood that some of the women came from a distance of 3 km. If such a woman collects water twice or thrice a day means the woman walks more than 10 km a day in the name of collecting water and if such incidents happen in the arid regions of Gujrat, Andhra Pradesh or Rajasthan or Maharashtra are considered as very serious matter and often highlighted in the national media. But till today, neither the government nor any civil society group is paying heed to this matter. Repeated and excessive water carrying creating serious health hazards among the women. Most of the women reported that they had been suffering from waist, back and neck pain.
Sumi Das, a class eight student in a nearby school, who was coming back from the Chauldhuwa stream to her home after having a bath there told water scarcity often created problem in her schooling. She added,” We always waste more than an hour of our pre-school time (morning hours) in the river, and therefore, most of the students from her village hardly reach school on time.” When asked she told source of water in her homestead land is a distant dream. Basanta Das told that they had repeatedly appealed the PHE department but all gone futile. Most of the people did not know how to clean the filthy water for drinking. He also informed that no one advised them to use an affordable filter or to boil the water (to make germ free) before drinking it.
In Goroimari, an area comprising of several villages of Mishing tribe on the left bank of the Subansiri in Lakhimpur district faces extreme clean drinking water scarcity. They use traditional sand filters with bamboo basket. But it’s obvious that these types of filters can not make water safe for drink. It’s also unbelievable that most of the families store water in open shallow dug ponds (see photos).
(Source of water for drinking and household uses; and traditional water filter in a village near Goroimari in Lakhimpur district of Assam)
It is very surprising, why the government is not taking any initiative to provide safe drinking water to the people live in such arid topography though it has constitutional provisions and many schemes.
The constitution of India through the Article 47 guaranteed the states to provide clean drinking water and public health. Water is a state subject, and the schemes for providing drinking water facilities are implemented by the states. The 73rd amendment of the constitutional amendment provides in the eleventh schedule of the constitution that drinking water and sanitation are matters that could devolved to PRIs through state legislations. Since independence india took many schemes and has been spent a huge amount of money in the name of providing safe drinking water. But the improvement is very slow. It may also be mentioned that a wide range of international documents, including treaties, declarations and other standards recognized the right to water.