Hrudamajhi’s fight against fluoride contamination

WaterAid India/ Ishita Rampal

Hrudamajhi, 45, a resident of Kirejholla village belongs to the Gond tribe of western Odisha; a primitive Adivasi tribe. In the deep interiors of Nuapada district is this remote village in Boden block. The village is home to over 190 families, majorly farmers and daily wage labourers.

A glimpse of Kirejholla village in Nuapada district of Odisha. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)
A glimpse of Kirejholla village in Nuapada district of Odisha. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)

Kirejholla village is one of the five villages in the block that suffers from extreme fluoride contamination of water. Over two decades back, villagers accessed water from the only dug well in their reach. The well, being open at all times, soon became a pool of diseases. Also, the well was dangerous as people often slipped into because it lacked a proper boundary wall. “As it started becoming difficult to collect water from the dug well, the local authorities arranged for five handpumps in the village. Although the water was available at the handpump, about five years down the line people began to complain of tooth decolouration and joint pain,” recalls Hrudamajhi.

Swollen toes and ankle pain due to fluoride contamination in water made it difficult for Hrudamajhi to walk or sit properly. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)
Swollen toes and ankle pain due to fluoride contamination in water made it difficult for Hrudamajhi to walk or sit properly. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)

About two years ago, Hrudamajhi herself experienced severe joint pain and swelling in her feet. A common health issue faced by a majority of the villagers, Hrudamajhi began to live with the pain and discomfort. “When I complained about my increasing joint pain, my husband initially ignored the problem as it was a very common health issue… but soon, my knees and elbows jammed and the pain became unbearable. My toes were also swollen, so I finally visited a local doctor who gave me some painkillers to ease the pain. Although the pain became less intense, the swelling of my toes and the immobility of my joints stayed the same,” shared Hrudamajhi.

In 2016, WaterAid India and its partner intervened in the village. The prevalent health problems faced by the villagers led to the testing of water from all sources as the first and foremost step. The reports revealed that fluoride level of water was over 3ppm (way more than the permissible limit of 0.7ppm) in all five handpumps of the village.

Hrudamajhi and her neighbours walk towards the dug well. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)
Hrudamajhi and her neighbours walk towards the dug well. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)

Soon, awareness campaigns and discussions were initiated in the village. “We barely knew anything about the impact of fluoride in water. So a Jalabandhu (Jal means water and bandhu means friend in Hindi) committee was formed. The villagers joined the committee in order to address the various water problems and issues associated with it,” added Hrudamajhi. Together, the community members began to work towards their common goal of making clean water accessible for everyone.

The water from a nearby dug well was also tested so as to understand the condition of rest of the water sources. The lower ppm made the community realise the need to improve its currently dismal condition and make it not just usable but also potable. They came together and with technical and financial support from WaterAid India, it was decided that the dug well will be refurbished into a mini pipe water supply system.

The mini tap water supply sourced from the dug well has now made it easier for the women to collect water. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)
The mini tap water supply sourced from the dug well has now made it easier for the women to collect water. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)

The dug well was thus plastered and a storage tank was built next to it with a capacity of 12,000litres. A water pump was also placed in order to fetch water from the well at all times, and the ten taps on the outside of the storage tank made it easier for the villagers to collect water.

The covered dug well that is now converted into a mini pipe water supply system is low on fluoride and allows the water to stay clean. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)
The covered dug well that is now converted into a mini pipe water supply system is low on fluoride and allows the water to stay clean. (WaterAid India/Ishita Rampal)

“Now, after we stopped using water from the handpumps and started using the supply from the dug well, the swelling of my feet and elbows has decreased a bit. Earlier I would not be able to sit on the ground or do household work for long hours, but now the situation is slowly changing. I still have a painful sensation in my feet, however, the condition is better than before. I am told that this is due to the fluoride contaminated water I consumed for years. Nevertheless, I am relieved that my children will surely be away from such health problems,” concludes a much relieved Hrudamachi.

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