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Without Clean Drinking Water, Village Residents Succumb to Diarrhoea

Village goes without water supply for half a month, residents forced to draw water from nearby BSF camp or consume unsafe pond water.

“India got its freedom in 1947, but we have no water even now”, says a visibly angry Ajit Soren, a resident of a West Bengal village. His village is seething with anger and desperation, and instances of disease are on the rise. Home to 150 families from tribal communities, the village’s only source of water is an electric pump, which is not always functional.

Petrolgarh Village falls in the district of Malda, which ranks 17th out of the 18 districts of West Bengal on the Human Development Index. Soriya Banu, who is following the story of the water crisis, says that water is only one of the myriad of problems in the village. “The roads are in a dismal state, there is no anganwadi centre and no access to proper healthcare. Electricity is another major problem.”

“The pump works only when there is electricity, and we recently had to go without water for 10-15 days”, says Soren, who is making his way to the nearby Border Security Force (BSF) camp to fetch water. The camp has a functional electric pump but the residents of Petrolgarh are denied access to it on days when senior BSF officials visit the camp.

In April 2017, the village residents submitted an application to the Village Council Head. Soon after, in May, Soriya Banu documented the problem through her video, and in June, she followed up by phone with the Head. Soriya was told that the pump would be repaired soon. With the combined efforts of Soriya and the residents of the village, the Village Council Head did get the pump repaired, in July. But this does little to end the village’s worries.

Water for washing, cooking and cleaning comes from the local pond and on desperate days, drinking water as well.

“Only one pump, which works only when there is electricity, is not enough to cater to 150 odd families, the pump in the BSF camp is not always accessible either”, says Soriya, saying that many do not get water even on days when the pump is working. What do the residents of Petrolgarh do, then? They go to the local pond, a water body which is becoming a breeding pool of diseases and death. Water for washing, cooking and cleaning comes from the pond and on desperate days, drinking water as well. “When the pond is running dry, we have to manage with whatever little water it has”, says Basanti Soren, another resident.

“Won’t our government look at us?”, asks Ajit, angrily. But the government, instead of taking adequate measures to address the problem, is casting the blame on the public hygiene practices of the area. A recent diarrhoea outbreak has claimed five lives in the block that Petrolgarh is in, and many more are in need of care. The Block Development Officer has attributed the outbreak to the use of pond water for all purposes, but the village residents have little choice when no other source of water is available to them.

The diarrhoea outbreak has put the residents of Petrolgarh in a precarious situation. Soriya explains that to reach the nearest Public Health Centre, one has to walk for 3km and only then is public transport available to make the rest of the journey. “The residents of the area are very angry about the situation and have asked me to help them further, I now plan to show my video to the Panchayat and follow the issue up with the Village Council Head once again”, she says.

To ensure that Petrolgarh soon gets safe water through a pipeline supply, call the Village Council Head Mamta Sardar at +91-9932042589 and ask her to take the necessary steps to install a pipeline.

Article by Alankrita Anand

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