Ill consequences of unsafe drinking water and not following WASH behaviors are well documented. According to a UNICEF report (2017), 102,813 children below the age of five years lost their lives due to diarrhea in 2016. Against this backdrop, S M Sehgal Foundation in partnership with CAWST (Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology), Canada, is working on a pilot project named “WASH for Healthy Homes” in Vaishali district of Bihar, where having safe water is the biggest challenge for the most vulnerable population, poorest of the poor, and daily wage laborers.
Vaishali district lies in the middle Ganga plain of North Bihar, which reports a high prevalence of arsenic, iron, and microbiological contamination in the groundwater. A majority of the population belongs to rural community and are economically poor. Due to lack of awareness, knowledge, and availability of alternate sources, the population is bound to consume contaminated water.
The project aims to change this vulnerable community’s WASH behaviors by building access to safe drinking water through promoting the adoption of a low-cost water filter, MatiKalp, a type of ceramic pot filter. This low-cost water treatment technology removes microbial contamination and turbidity and improves water quality at the household level to help abate the prevalence of microbial and iron contamination that causes gastrointestinal problems. Sensitization and awareness-building on WASH behaviors are integral parts of the project in household clusters selected on the basis of economic level. The people are sensitized about the need and benefits of safe drinking water and best hygiene practices.
To make the MatiKalp water filter locally available, potters in the area who were losing the livelihood from their artistic craft due to lifestyle changes were approached. They were trained to produce the ceramic MatiKalp and supported with the infrastructure required for production and skill building to become entrepreneurs.
MatiKalp water filters user experiences indicate how this low-cost technology is helping people overcome a lot of problems faced due to contaminated water consumption:
1. Parmila Devi from Kailachak village has been using MatiKalp for more than eight months. Her source water has high concentrations of arsenic, iron, and microbiological contamination. Since she adopted the MatiKalp, she reports no gastrointestinal issues. The tests of filtered water for microbial, arsenic, and iron concentration were found safe.
2. During the household survey and water testing in the area, Meena Devi, from Lakhanpur Lal village, found arsenic (75 ppb) and iron (3 PPM) contamination in the drinking water. When she came to know about the adverse health effects of this contamination and the concentration levels, she bought the MatiKalp filter. Since then, she has been relieved from gastrointestinal ailments. Now she advocates for adoption of water treatment in her community.
3. Anita Devi of Khoska Kalyan village was aware about the iron contamination due to color changes after storing the water for some time. She had been suffering from acute gastrointestinal pain and diarrhea. In a sensitization session, she came to know about the MatiKalp water filter and decided to buy one. The MatiKalp really helped in the reduction of health issues and the family’s expenses on doctors and medicines.
A small behavior change can create the great effect on the society. These women are the changemakers in their areas. They adopted a new practice and are now creating awareness among others to follow simple practices of safe drinking water.
(Yashi Gautam is Assistant Program Lead, Drinking Water, S M Sehgal Foundation)