KHAMTARAI IN KHARIAR (NUAPADA): The 14-km-long potholed road leading to Khamtarai village under Duajhar gram panchayat from Khariar block headquarters presents a mirage on a hot, sultry noon. Only a few Babool trees dot the landscape with no sign of either animals or human beings.
At the entrance of the village stands a rusted tubewell with a large cross on it, painted in red. Water oozing from the tubewell isn’t meant for use by people as it is laced with fluoride beyond permissible limits. A group of women tell us that they have been standing there for more than an hour for collecting one small bucket of water each. “This is the only option we have,” Moudamani Nial, one of the women, rues.
There are 295 households in Khamtarai of which 68 are Scheduled Caste, 195 Scheduled Tribe, 26 belong to OBC category and only six are from other castes. For a population of more than 1,600, the only source of drinking water in the village are 12 tubewells - all marked with a red cross that denotes that water is contaminated with fluoride. As villagers continue to use them, an NGO and the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RWSS) officials had put filters on two of these tubewells. People living in Talpada area of the village have removed the filter from the tubewell in their area. It slowed down water flow, they reason.
Although they are aware of fluoride’s impact on health, the villagers have no other way out but to consume the brown-coloured water that these tubewells offer. There are six stand posts in the village, but only one is functional.
Effect of fluoride contamination is visible across all age groups, the most common being blackening of teeth and joint pain. Many suffer from kidney ailments as well.
The last time a health check-up was conducted in this fluoride-affected village was six months back. “A team of doctors from Khariar Community Health Centre had conducted health check-up of all the residents. Prior to that, it was done four years back,” informs Sundar Majhi, another local.
At another corner of the village, big brass locks hang on the weak wooden doors of 39 houses. At least 74 persons, who resided in these houses have migrated to other parts of the State in search of work. Villagers consider them lucky. “At least, they do not have to face the struggle for water,” says Basanta Tandi, who cannot walk properly as his legs have become weak due to skeletal fluorosis.
Sometimes, Khamtarai villagers walk down to the neighbouring Ranimunda village, which is four km away, to fetch water. Surprisingly, water in Ranimunda does not have fluoride. Their co-villagers in the sparsely vegetated Kotamal village, which is three km away from Khamtarai, consider themselves fortunate. There are five tubewells for 280 households in Kotamal but two of them are defunct. Luckily, a traditional water harvesting structure on the outskirts of the village has not dried up yet.
Like Khamtarai, water in Uparpada area of Chicher, a small village located at the foothills of Satapahad under Nehena gram panchayat, is not potable. This village is around 11 km from Khariar block headquarters. There are a few tubewells here but the flow is thin and water does not taste or smell pleasant. People residing in the 100-odd households that dot Uparpada are neither sure if the water has a heavy concentration of minerals nor are aware of reasons that give the water its look and smell. They do not depend on the tubewells anymore and use the water only for washing utensils.
Women of Uparpada walk down a km to bring water from a water harvesting structure constructed on a rain-fed nullah that flows down the Satapahad hill. They have also dug up water holes on the bed of the nullah. Even as the State Government has been making tall promises of extending piped water supply to all water-stressed areas of the State, it is still a distant dream for people of Khamtarai, Ranimunda, Kotamal and Chicher. It has remained a mere lip service, they lament.