More than 70% of Tharparkar’s population needs access to clean water. Thar, previously known as ‘the land of sand, camels, clasps and mystics,’ is now a rough terrain. As dry as dust, the region does not get enough rainfall. Even when it finally rains, and water collects in the dug wells, it soon becomes a source of water-borne diseases.
Rohingya refugees residing in the Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh face the same issues. Fleeing from violence and abuse, refugees, hoping for a better future, are faced with multiple problems. And unsanitary drinking water, overcrowded camps, and flooding are a few of the many problems. Additionally, the occasional flooding brings water-borne disease with itself.
The lack of sanitary water is indeed a tragedy.
Water Resources In The Region of Thar
Brutal weather conditions accompanied by infrequent rainfall have made the region unbearable. When it does rain, it is mostly in an erratic pattern, leading to a drought.
Besides the stored rainwater, Wells and small ponds serve as water resources in the region of Thar. However, these water resources are almost always contaminated with diseases and harmful minerals, forcing the inhabitants to compromise and settle for what they have.
The groundwater, mixed with saline and brackish, has a high concentration of minerals and salts. Despite being the breeding ground for diseases, the harmful water is used for drinking purposes by both humans and livestock. Not just that, but the same water is used for bathing, cooking, and washing clothes.
The lack of options and the expensive rural-to-urban migration keeps many families from moving away. Inhabitants who often wish for a better city life are left with little choice.
Tests conducted by Mehran University are alarming as multiple locations showed an excess of fluoride, lead, mercury, selenium, and arsenic. The researchers found harmful chemicals and minerals to be above the WHO guidelines.
Despite this alarming situation, the state has paid no heed to the people of Thar and their human rights violations. The contaminated water continues to give rise to water-borne diseases, often leading to deaths.
An Outbreak Of Diseases
Thar residents are the victims of water scarcity and continue to suffer from various water-borne diseases, including kidney stones, joint abnormalities, and thyroid. Malnourishment found in children, tragic deaths of previously healthy adults, and cattle dying from livestock diseases, the southern province of Sindh has been neglected for so long.
More than 3,000 children have died in the last five years. Last year, Thar witnessed the death of 36 children, all in a span of a month.
Droughts, contaminated water resources, and subsequently, malnourishment and death are as common as colds. Sadly, little is done to make Thar a safe place.
Water Purifiers – Are They Any Good?
To curb this issue, the Sindh government has installed Reverse Osmosis plants to provide sanitary drinking water for the Thar residents. Although the RO plants have managed to reduce the outbreak of diseases and improve the health of previously malnourished children, they face their own issues.
The neglect of RO plants on behalf of the local officials is a major issue still unresolved. Non-functional and out of order, the plants have proved to be useless in the face of incompetence.
RO plants often go out of order since low-grade staffers are hired to maintain the plants occasionally. The lack of expertise leads to inefficiency. The rest of the plants are claimed to be non-functional because of the pending litigation, which seems to continue for a while. Victims of political adventure, the plants are reduced to toys.
Around 80% of households in Thar do not have toilets or access to sanitation facilities.
The lack of proper sanitation facilities, including toilets and sewage systems, leads to the contamination of water sources. Open defecation and mixing sewage with water bodies contribute to the spread of water-borne diseases.
World’s Largest Stateless Population
Rohingya refugees, categorized as the world’s largest stateless population, have been victims of malnourishment and early deaths. The sudden influx of 700,000 refugees in 2017 burdened the country’s natural and economic resources.
Weather Conditions In Cox’s Bazar
Fortunately, Cox’s Bazar does not have water scarcity. Even when there is little to no rainfall, the monsoon season makes up for it. It takes no time to recover from the dry spells. However, the water available is often contaminated and unsanitary for any use.
The contaminated water brings a list of water-borne diseases like typhoid and infections.
The destruction of shelters and tents due to high winds only adds further destruction in the face of the calamity. Camps are not strong enough to survive high-intensity rains and winds, and the cyclones often leave the stateless population without shelter and at the mercy of destruction.
Tube Wells – Are They A Reliable Water Source?
Similar to dug wells in the region of Thar, Tube wells are a common source of water extraction, later used for bathing, drinking, and cleaning. Contaminated by harmful bacteria, the water from the tube well causes similar problems.
Although the UN, with the help of the Bangladesh government, has installed water purifiers to reduce the impact of water-borne diseases, the effort is not enough. Although 40,000 refugees have had access to safer drinking water after the installation of water purifiers, more than half of the refugees still continue to suffer.
E.coli was found in a water sample; research in 2017 showed the household’s water to be at least 92% contaminated.
That was followed by an acute diarrhea outbreak leading to 10 deaths. Already malnourished, children under five were the primary victims of the outbreak.
Overcrowded camps mean fewer latrines. That is why more often than not, many toilets overflow. After the overflowing, the waste is then carried away with the monsoon rain, contaminating the water resources.
The fact that many latrines are built very close to the tube wells, and the poorly planned layout has only added to the problem of already unsafe water.
Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right, often abused. The underprivileged section of the developing world is the victim of state incompetence and the lack of economic resources. The region of Thar, abandoned for so long, now requires special attention. Similarly, the refugees in Cox’s Bazar need to be provided more humanitarian aid to successfully battle water-borne diseases. It is time that efforts are made to provide clean, sanity water!