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Project Proposal: Water Treatment

Full description of problem/need

According to local doctors, Pabal residents primarily suffer from diarrhea and gastrointestinal diseases. Local pharmacists confirm that they sell more drugs for diarrhea than for any other ailment, especially during the rainy season, when they say rainwater washes pathogens into wells. According to Dr. Yogesh Kulkarni (head of Vigyan Ashram) residents of Pabal spend 40-50% of their income on medical treatment. According to local doctors, patients demand injections rather than oral rehydration therapy, believing that an injection will hasten their recovery. Doctors are thus compelled to treat diarrhea using saline drips (intravenous packs cost Rs. 200). Between two to four packs are administered per bout of diarrhea. (To put that into context: in India diahorrea treatment costs a minimum of Rs. 400, and the monthly income in rural India is Rs. 6000., In England ORT costs Rs. 80 for more than enough for a bout of diahorrea and the average income is well above Rs. 80 000 per month). In addition to doctors' treatment a local pharmacist estimates that people spend between Rs. 300 and Rs. 500 on drugs per person per year. A cost-efficient method of water treatment would considerably reduce medical costs and loss of income due to ill health.

Water treatment could also aim to prevent another ailment common in Pabal: kidney stones. Kidney stones affect approximately 10% of the population (according to local residents) and may be due to the high mineral content present in Pabal's water supply. (It should be noted that kidney stones can also be caused by failure to drink enough water and according to a local doctor long term dehydration is the more likely cause.)

How will the local community use the proposed solution?
The local population often treats water only after falling prey to a water-borne illness. The most common water purification technique is boiling, which effectively kills pathogens and reduces the mineral content of the water. Unfortunately the cost of boiling water is high, wasteful of scarce resources and cooling the water before drinking can be inconvenient. The current practice of boiling could be usefully replaced by treatment requiring less energy or based on a locally-produced resource. Recently Pabal residents have started to chlorinate wells and water before drinking using chlorine drops, which can be easily bought in Pabal. This practice may pollute groundwater and may not be good for people's health. It would be useful to design a household water treatment system that is not reliant on chemicals or electricity. The water treatment system should be designed such that people can use it when they see fit, i.e. the system should not need to be in constant use to maintain proper functioning.

Estimate of the economic benefit anticipated and plans for training of the local community? What are the major impacts on such a project?
A large amount of money is spent on treatment of avoidable diseases such as diarrhea. A low-cost, easy-to-use method of water treatment may encourage people to treat water on a routine basis, thereby avoiding high medical costs. Equally, replacing the practice of boiling water as a response to illness with another water treatment method will reduce families' expenditure on fuel.

Ideally, no training for the manufacture and use of the solution would be necessary. However, any training which is required will hopefully be handled by Vigyan Ashram or as part of an EWB placement.

Any form of filtration collects harmful substances and concentrates them, potentially creating a localized problem. The disposal of filtrate and worn-out equipment should be taken into account when designing a solution, should filtration prove to be the most suitable method. An improvement in the quality of water, leading to a reduction in disease prevalence, will probably reduce the income of doctors and pharmacists. It will also reduce the natural immunity present in the population. Both of these factors should be borne in mind since if the new treatment system is adopted and then abandoned this will create a situation that may be worse than the current situation. A reduction in the reliance on oil-based fuels for water treatment is probably going to be the main benefit of any solution.

Full description of the local situation (e.g. social, economic, geographical, political)

People currently collect water from their own wells, the town well or the town storage tank, and some also buy bottled water. For eight months of the year, water must be trucked into Pabal and the surrounding region. A dam has been constructed approximately three kilometers from the center of Pabal and a storage tank on the hill above Pabal, near Vigyan Ashram, will be completed in the next two years, allowing people access to running water in their homes. There are currently no plans for treatment of this water.

According to local residents, most water-borne illnesses are spread during the four months of the rainy season when water permeates through the soil too quickly for the removal of pathogens. It is also the time of the year when surface water can spread pathogens from open drains and surface fecal material into wells.

Numerous household solutions for water treatment currently exist but are unsatisfactory for a multitude of reasons. Ceramic filters are available locally and cost about Rs. 200 per year, but are not popular because they are inconvenient to maintain. A filter made from rice husks has been developed in Pune, but this technology is still in the process of being developed and so is not in widespread use. Traditionally, people have filtered water using pots made from a mix of clay and charcoal (the traditional version of today's ceramic filter technology). They have also traditionally stored water in copper pots as a form of chemical treatment. In recent years however people have increasingly abandoned this traditional technology in favor of western technologies, which are often too expensive or not widely available in rural areas. One doctor that has practiced in Pabal for the last 30 years has noticed a decrease in illness. However a retired doctor who practiced before prior to this maintains that people were healthier before the introduction of western medicine and technologies.

Once water becomes more widely available in Pabal, locals expect the population to increase as people move into the village from the surrounding hamlets. This increase in population density will also increase the potential for water contamination, making access to household water purification increasingly important.

Full description of relevant infrastructure available locally and/or internationally
See the engINdia Final Report for details of materials that are available.
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