RAMANATHAPURAM: “Water Water everywhere, not a drop to drink,” – the verse from an 18th century English poem holds true for the coastal villages in Ramanathapuram district. The lack of drinking water for decades together in their villages and the money shelled out to buy them only adds salt to their already wounded earnings from an uncertain livelihood catching fish.
If a random sample of vehicles on the roads of Ramanathapuram is taken, the most sighted ones would be tractors and trucks ferrying drinking water.
A close second would be the hand held push carts with plastic buckets.
“This (water scarcity) has been the case since my birth. My mother used to tell me stories of how they did not have water to bathe me as a child. In my days of growing up, I used to walk seven kilometres away to fetch drinking water from a well. Today, my children buy water in buckets from tankers. That is the only difference,” S Sengoalammal (57) of Karangadu village said. “This is the legacy we have passed on for generations.”
A bucket of water is sold at Rs 5 and during the peak of summer, the cost escalates to Rs 10.
Hordes of buckets, drums and push carts are a common sight in the villages of Ramanathapuram district.
Sengoalammal’s village, Karangadu, off the East Coast Road is 40 kms from Ramanathapuram town. Across the road, a few meters away is Mullimanai.
The time is 10 am and the fishermen have just begun returning from work. While Karangadu fishermen follow Christianity and their main catch is crabs from the backwaters, their counterparts in Mullimanai are predominantly Hindu and indulge in sea water fishing. The 1500 odd fishermen families from these villages are divided by faith and their catch, but one thing unites them- lack of drinking water for five decades.
“If you come early in the morning, there will be some twenty tractors and trucks with drinking water. The traffic is worse than that in cities,” exclaimed A Gajendran (51) of Mullimanai village. On Friday morning, his family spent Rs 100 to buy 20 buckets of water.
For a fisherman’s family where earnings vary everyday depending on the amount of the catch, spending Rs 6,000- Rs 10,000 per month on drinking water is but an inevitable indulgence.
Women in these villages travel on bus, 15 kms away to another village to wash their clothes as the ground water there is too saline. “Once the conductor asked our women to buy tickets for the cloth baggage. There was a commotion,” A Rajakittu (75) of Mullimanai said.
From the dysfunctional desalination plants to the springing up of prawn farms that apparently made the ground water saline, locals have theories for their sufferings.
Protests were held, petitions were filed and of late the villagers seemed to have accepted the way of living. About 70 kms away from these two villages is Ervadi village, famous for its durgah (mosque). Drinking water availability has been a problem in the villages across this stretch too which includes towns like Keezhakarai, Sikkal until Kadaladi and Sayalkudi.
The time is 4 30 pm. 61 year old Muthu Karungan of Krishna Nagar, Ervadi pushes his cart with empty buckets towards the PanayadiOorani to fetch water for domestic use. “The carts cost us Rs 4,500,” he said. He does the 1 km trip from his village to the oorani (water body) four times a day. A few kilometres away, in Sikkal Town, T Dinesh and M Prabhu returned from school only half an hour ago.
The two class 9 boys at the Government higher secondary school nearby do not have time to kill with their friends nor is the evening meant for playing. Holding a pushcart that probably equals their weight, the two 14 year olds go to the SikkalOorani (water body) to fetch water for their homes. “Every evening, we do this trip (1.5kms) from their homes to the Oorani twice. This water is not for drinking purposes. For drinking, we buy from the tankers,” Dinesh said.
The Ramanathapuram Combined drinking water project which brings water to some of the villages in the district since 2009 has proved to be a sigh of relief, but that is not enough as still majority of the population buys water for a price and travels kilometres to fetch those buckets.
Here, Water is the liquid gold!
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