Exploring the Water and Health Nexus

I came across a study conducted by the Bhalaswa Lok Shakti Manch and Hazards Centre recently, to assess the potability of the groundwater in areas that surround the Bhalaswa landfill site. Bhalaswa, in north eastern Delhi spread over 21.06 acres of land, is one of the three landfill sites where the solid wastes of Delhi is dumped. It is located near the Bhalaswa Lake, which is a freshwater oxbow lake on Yamuna floodplain. This area also houses the Bhalaswa resettlement colony that has a population of more than 4000 households, consisting of people who were displaced from various regions of Delhi and then resettled there by the government around eleven years ago. The study aimed at understanding the relationship between the quality of groundwater and the general health of the population. Findings from the report indicate a grim situation, putting a big question mark on the tall claims of the government of providing safe drinking water to people. Here is an except from the report:

The major source of drinking water in Bhalaswa is the water supplied by DJB (88 per cent), which is supplemented by hand pumps when this water is not available. Each house has a hand pump that they use mainly for domestic chores, however occasionally, they use it for drinking purposes also, when they do not have access to the other types of drinking water. During the survey, people were asked about the visible characteristics of the water that they receive. A large number of people reported problems such as not obtaining clear water, but getting coloured water having sediments. The people reported that on letting the water stand for some time, a layer of sediments is observed at the bottom. In some of the hand pumps near the landfill, the water that comes out sometimes is brownish‐blackish in colour.

Sources of Groundwater Contamination

The study revealed that the groundwater from the hand pumps located in the vicinity of the landfill show increased concentrations of contaminants. The water samples had high levels of TDS, COD as well as specific contaminants such as lead and zinc. Some of the water samples were faecally contaminated. The residents suffer from a number of illnesses, especially gastro‐intestinal diseases, musculoskeletal pain, skin and eye irritation, and respiratory problems. The groundwater in the area around the landfill is being contaminated due to leachate from the landfill, and additionally as there is no regular provision of clean drinking water in the colony, the people have to suffer.

The study indicates negligence in water management, adequate sewage disposal, and waste-water treatment, posing a threat to the lives of the residents. Steps need to be taken to ensure a clean water supply to the residents, and also to ensure that the landfill does not lead to further contamination of the groundwater. The crisis could have been largely avoided with better water management practices but there has been a distinct lack of attention to water legislation, water conservation, efficiency in water use, water recycling, and infrastructure. We aim to address this at our fourth edition of the Design Public Conclave, wherein we will focus on enabling better coordination between various efforts made to better manage our water resources, in order to bring clean drinking and domestic water to the urban and rural poor who suffer most from their lack.

* Read the full report here.

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