Around 1,800 million people would be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by the year 2025, when two-thirds of the world population could be under stress, an expert said here on Tuesday.
In India, which is one of the major countries hit by the menace of arsenic contamination of groundwater, the government projects have suffered due to lack of people's involvement, West Bengal government's Arsenic Task Force Chairman K.J. Nath said at a workshop organised by the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation (SISSO).
"During the 1970s and 80s, a large number of people in the Ganga-Brahmaputra plains (West Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Assam) were affected by arsenic contaminated groundwater. It is acute in Bangladesh, China. The government programmes providing arsenic-free water involves operational problem as people are not involved in it," said Nath, former Director of All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health.
He pointed out that in the 1930s and 40s, surface water was the primary source of drinking water. But due to the epidemic of diarrhoea and cholera, the government shifted to deep tubewells and that brought the problem of arsenic.
Permissible amount of arsenic in drinking water is 0.05 mg/l in India as per Bureau of Indian Standards.
The 2011 Census says that 1.79 crores of rural and 1.41 crore of the urban population are affected with the high arsenic level in West Bengal.
Turning to the global scenario, Nath said the way water defies political boundaries and classification, the crisis is also beyond the scope of any individual country or sector and cannot be dealt with in isolation.
SISSO, working to improve sanitation in the country, has taken up pilot projects in five places of West Bengal for providing treated surface water at a nominal price.
"Through our pilot projects in Madhusudankati (North 24 Parganas), Paschim Midnapur, Harisdaspur (Bongaon), we have been able to assist local NGOs and self-help groups to provide safe water by treating surface water," SISSO Founder Bindeshwar Pathak said.
The plant in Madhusudankati provides almost 8,000 litres of water per day at Rs 1 per litre.
Pathak mentioned that there are similar projects where the plant is run by community people in Bihar and Delhi.
"We are also planning to set up a new plant in Madhusudankati and another one in Bengal that will treat groundwater and make it arsenic free. With a new technology from Denmark, there will be no problem of dealing with the disposal of the collected arsenic," Pathak said.
State Panchayat and Rural Development, and Public Health Engineering Minister Subrata Mukherjee called for spreading more awareness.
"Around 83 blocks in West Bengal and some places in Kolkata have a high arsenic level in groundwater. We are working hard to provide safe water but the main issue is awareness. It is not just about arsenic but also about saving our depleting water resources," Mukherjee said.
(With inputs from agencies.)