Exploring the use of biosand filters for safe drinking water in Nagaland

The newly formed district of Peren in Nagaland is situated in the Himalayas at altitudes ranging from 800 to 2,500 meters. The majority of the tribal population in the district is engaged in a system of agriculture called jhum (shifting cultivation). The forests here are rich in biodiversity and the area receives abundant annual rainfall.

The residents of Peren draw water from surface sources, which include springs, ponds, and streams. The amount of water available from these resources is highly variable. During dry summer months, the amount of water drastically drops. Water from surface sources is open to contamination due to human, animal, and natural interactions. Another issue is the presence of iron and other chemicals in the water. An option for supplementing surface water sources would be to drill a tubewell in the rock formation, but that is very expensive. One tubewell can serve many villages, which could share the cost, but the distance between the villages and the hilly terrain make that option unfeasible.

Surface water sources are located in the foothill areas where the burden of fetching water has adverse impacts on women and children. “By 4:00 a.m., boys and girls as young as five or six are seen heading for tiny ponds and springs to collect water for their families’ use.”[1] They walk at least a kilometer up and down on steep slopes and do not attend school.

Potable water in the district is being tapped by private suppliers to sell bottled water, which few residents can afford. Due to the shortage of potable water, many poor households consume contaminated water which causes diseases and escalates medical costs. The civic action group of the army took a small initiative with the help of Sehgal Foundation to explore the use of biosand filters (BSF) to purify water for drinking.

Civic Action against water crisis

In April 2015, Assistant Commandant Rakesh Mallik of the 18 Assam Rifles approached Sehgal Foundation to seek assistance with the water situation in Peren District. As the officer-in-charge of the Military Civic Action, he had learned about Sehgal Foundation’s stainless steel biosand filter on the Internet and expressed interest in using this water treatment technology in the unit’s Civic Action Program as part of the welfare activities for civilians. The initial request was to conduct a pilot test and install ten biosand filters. A consignment of BSF containers was sent by train.

On May 25, 2015, Mr. Lalit Sharma of Sehgal Foundation visited the military unit headquarters inJhaluki to install the first biosand filter for the pilot test and build the capacity of the troops to do the rest. The readily available materials for filter media in the BSF were locally procured and processed at the site. In addition, Lalit conducted a one-day training of trainers program to sensitize the community regarding the purpose and use of the BSF and build the capacities of the unit’s training team to ensure the success of the pilot project. After the training, the civic action team installed the remaining nine biosand filters.

Presently these filters are being tested under the supervision of a medical doctor of the Indian Army. The civic action team has asked for installation of filters at five more locations and will test them for suitability. After the pilot test, the unit plans to install about 100 water filters. This may be scaled up further in the next phase depending upon the response.

[1] “Prayer for official investigation and prompt action on the acute water crisis in Peren town,” The Morung Express, (February 14, 2014) posted at  http://morungexpress.com/prayer-for-official-investigation-and-prompt-action-on-the-acute-water-crisis-in-peren-town/.