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Groundwater contamination more likely in non-ODF villages

Groundwater contamination is 12.7 times more likely in villages practising open-defecation as compared to those declared open-defecation free (ODF) under the Swachh Bharat Mission, a UN study revealed last week.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report analysed 752 samples from 12 ODF and an equal number of non-ODF villages across West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha.

According to the study, soil and food in the non-ODF villages were 1.1 and 2.16 times respectively more likely to be contaminated with human faeces in comparison to ODF villages.

It also revealed that in non-ODF villages, piped water was 2.40 times and household water was 2.48 times more likely at risk of faecal contamination.

In Bihar, the groundwater in the non-ODF villages was 35.7 times more likely to get contaminated. Similarly, in West Bengal and Odisha, the groundwater was 6.5 and 5.3 times respectively more likely at risk of faecal contamination.

Piped water in non-ODF villages in Bihar (1.33 times), West Bengal (2.73 times) and Odisha (1.5 times) too was more likely to get contaminated as compared to ODF villages.

Similarly, the household water in non-ODF villages in Bihar (2.74 times), West Bengal (4.14 times) and Odisha (1.44 times) was more likely to be contaminated in comparison to the ODF villages.

The soil in non-ODF villages in Bihar (1.21 times), West Bengal (1.39 times) and West Bengal (0.89 times) was also at risk of contamination.

“The minimal risk reduction for soil contamination potentially indicates the importance of establishing faecal sludge management together with solid and liquid waste management in more effective ways, to further reduce the risk of disease transmission,” the report said.

Valentin Foltescu, Senior Programme and Science Officer, Climate & Clean Air Coalition, UN-Environment said: “The report shows positive correlations between a community being ODF and the decrease in the number of contaminants from the human origin in the community’s immediate surroundings.”

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Centre undertook a byzantine initiative to make villages ODF and even gave monetary help to build a toilet. The mission received appreciation from various quarters.

Nearly 5,61,940 villages have been declared ODF. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Andaman and Nicobar, Andhra Pradesh and Chandigarh are 100 per cent ODF. It is lowest in Goa, Odisha, Telangana, Bihar and West Bengal.

After the ODF campaign, the government will focus on solid and liquid waste management in villages, Parameswaran Iyer, Secretary with the ministry said.

He said rural sanitation coverage in the country has 99 per cent and the mission was in its final stages.

According to another study by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, money spent by the government and private sector on information, education and communication (IEC) activities to promote Swachh Bharat Mission was between Rs 3500-4000 crore.

Of this, Rs 800 crore was spent by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Rs 1250 crore by state sanitation departments, Rs 1000 crore by other government ministries and the rest by the private sector.

“An average person living in rural India was exposed to 2,500-3,3300 Swachh Bharat Mission messages over the last five years,” the report said. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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